The M&P Project – First Blush

I finally get a chance to start writing about this! One of my rules of thumb for match prize tables is to always try to pick up something I can use, even if there are more valuable things sitting on the table when I get to it (I’ll write a post on prize tables, and my thoughts on them at some point in the future). For quite a while, I’ve wanted to pick up a striker fired gun of some flavor to use as a utility piece for a few purposes – teaching (many of my students don’t shoot Open), developing a self defense curriculum (which is hard to do with a gun that can’t be shot out of a normal “real world” holster), and to serve as a duty sized EDC gun (that’s “Every Day Carry”). I might also use such a pistol to shoot USPSA Production division, at some point. I finally got my wish at the 2010 Open Nationals, where I found a certificate for a Smith & Wesson pistol on the prize table. I used it to order an M&P9.

Now that I have it in hand, I’m going to detail my initial impressions, and walk you through some steps I’ve followed to improve the gun for my intended uses in a series of posts that will follow this one.

When I sent the certificate into S&W in early November, 2010, I didn’t anticipate that it would take 7 months for my FFL to actually receive the gun! S&W has seen a huge surge in orders for the M&P, primarily
law enforcement sales, but also as a competition and carry gun for civilian use. As you would expect, fulfillment of those contract orders take precedence over guns allocated for marketing purposes, and S&W is turning them out as quickly as they can. This is obviously a good problem for S&W to have.

I’d had a chance to handle M&Ps before choosing one as a prize off the table, and I’d been impressed with their feel in the hand. The grip angle is “right” for me, in that it’s extremely similar to the 2011 frame that I shoot in competition. This reduces the changeover time from gun to gun, and allows the gun to point more naturally for me than, say, a Glock with it’s higher cant angle. Folks who shoot a 1911 with an arched mainspring housing may find the Glock a better fit for them for the same reason.

The M&P was the first gun on the market that included interchangble backstraps so that the shooter could tailor the size of the grip to match their hand. The gun comes with three different backstraps – a medium one that comes on the gun, plus one larger and one smaller. The small backstrap fixes a common complaint that shooters with smaller hands have had with traditional, striker fired, double column guns – the grips are just
too fat and big for them to shoot well with. With the small backstrap, the gun is pretty sleek, and even my wife, with her petite hands, can grip the gun properly and reach the trigger without difficulty. I like the small backstrap myself.

Like it’s primary competition, the M&P has a plastic frame with a steel upper. The slide, in this case, is stainless steel with a black finish of some flavor (I haven’t investigated to determine if this is melanite, or some other finish). It’s an attractive looking package, with cocking serrations that are reminiscent of the popular fish scale patterns, and nice lightening cut lines down the length of the slide. Compared to the Glock and the XDs, the M&P is more attractive than their slab sides, to me. Beauty is obviously in the eyes of the beholder, and unlike some others, I don’t find the Glock or the XD unattractive, just not as clean looking as Smith’s offering.

The grip texture is pretty much perfect for a gun intended for carry. It’s grippy, but not in a way that will snag on clothing. It might get a bit slick with really sweaty hands, though. If I were going to use this gun solely for competition, I’d be wrapping it in grip tape – and that’s definitely an option for times it might see competition use. For normal carry, though, the stock configuration is great, so far.

The M&P comes with two magazines (full 9mm capacity of 17 in “free” states). The M&P magazines are a solid and sturdy steel design with clearly labeled witness holes on the sides of the tubes. Unlike the XD magazines I’ve owned in the past, these inspire confidence for long term reliability without futzing. I ordered four more magazines right away.

On the other side of the coin, the M&P suffers from some of the same issues basically every factory gun I’ve every handled shares with it – a rough, gritty trigger pull and sub-par sights. It’s rare for me to handle a factory gun and actually like the sights. Rare enough that I can’t recall ever doing it… A number of us have lamented the fact that the manufacturers seem to just put the cheapest thing they can find on their guns, leaving the user with a need to immediately put new sights on the gun right from the factory. It would be nice if we could get good, solid sights on the gun right from the factory. To be fair, the M&Ps sights could be worse. They’re not as bad as the sights I received on my XD, and are head and shoulders above factory Glock sights. The factory M&P sights are a 3 dot arrangement with a wide-ish front blade, and a relatively narrow rear notch, leaving very little light in the sight picture between the front and rear sights. A new set of sights will be mandatory with this gun, but as I said, that was expected right up front.

From the factory, the trigger pull on mine measures right at 6 pounds. It has about 1.5 pounds of takeup pressure, with notable grittiness before hitting a “wall” – that’s where you’re actually putting pressure on the gun’s sear and starting to break the trigger. There’s a reasonable amount of overtravel following the break (about a tenth of an inch). Full trigger travel is almost three tenths of an inch, with about .12″ of takeup, followed by approximately .08″ of trigger movement that could be described as “creep”, then the break and overtravel.

The reset is quite long – two tenths of an inch of travel forward from the rear. Additionally, there’s a “false” reset sensation about a tenth of an inch before the reset, where I feel what seems to be trigger resetting but isn’t – it’s about a tenth of an inch before the trigger actually resets. The reset point feels almost exactly the same. What’s really going on is the trigger bar is sliding off the striker block at this point, and I’m feeling the edge of the trigger bar that actuates the striker block fall off a fairly sharp edge on the striker block.

The actual reset feel in the trigger is very vague, in that there’s very little tactile sensation or feedback in the trigger itself to tell you when the trigger is reset. It’s also very quiet, though I don’t rely on sound to tell me when the trigger’s reset. In the past, I’ve only handled M&Ps that have had trigger jobs done by different gunsmiths. I’d noticed this vague reset with those guns, but had attributed it to the trigger job itself. Now, I realize this is a design factor in the M&P. It stems from the design S&W used to disconnect the trigger bar from the sear – the reset occurs when the trigger bar moves back around a cam in the slide and gets back under the sear. There’s just not much there in the way of tension, and therefore very little energy is transmitted back up the trigger bar to the trigger upon reset. In an upcoming article I’m working on about trigger control, hopefully it’ll make more sense to you why this is an important factor, but suffice it to say, positive, emphatic reset is a boon to trigger control, and the lack of it on the factory gun could make it hard for some shooters to get the best results possible with this gun.

At first blush, the M&P is basically what I expected, having handled a couple of these guns previously, and being pretty familiar with the range of duty style striker fired guns on the market. It’s a solid package that can be tailored easily to fit the shooter’s hand, and is a good starting point for a duty, carry, or possibly a competition gun (though, if this was just intended to be a competition gun, I would probably opt for one of the 5″ barreled M&P9Ls). It has a couple of notable issues that I’d like to correct, but overall I’m very comfortable with how the gun feels and handles. The next step is to get it onto the range and put some holes in things to see how it does!

About the author


USPSA Grand Master, NRA Instructor, http://re-gun.com/about/

Permanent link to this article: http://re-gun.com/2011/07/the-mp-project-first-blush/


2 pings

  1. ken hebert says:

    i’ve got 2 M&P handguns now, a 9 Pro and a 45, both of which i sent to a gunsmith for a little clean up work. the 9Pro is a delight to shoot production with, and i’ve also employed it in a few 3 gun matches. I recently won HOA with my 9Pro at our monthly USPSA match, over many other open and limited shooters. the guns has great potential. the 45 i bought to shoot in HM class in 3 gun, but i’m quickly deciding that it also has great merit in production with loads in the 145pf range. its almost like cheating how smooth it operates. the M&P line is money well spent.

  2. hsoi says:

    Of course now this means it’s time for the APEX trigger parts, including their RAM for more feel on the reset.

    1. DaveRe says:

      Hang on, hang on… don’t get ahead of me, now :) This is a series of posts :)

  3. Ben Carpio says:

    Correction sir, the first pistol that came with an interchangeable back-strap is the Walter P99, unless the M&P was made more than 11yrs ago.



    1. DaveRe says:

      Thanks, Ben – and sorry for the delay in posting your comment. You got trapped in the spam filter ;-)

      I was unaware of the P99. Looks like S&W liked the idea enough, following their collaboration w/ Walter on the SW99 that they incorporated it into the M&P. I would argue, though, that the M&P certainly made the feature mainstream – Glock and Springfield Armory didn’t see a need to update their designs to incorporate changeable backstraps until the M&P hit the market in 2005…

  1. The M&P Project – the Apex Tactical USB | Re-Gun says:

    [...] you might recall from the first installment in this series that I mentioned the stock trigger pull is kind of gritty. It also has a sort “false [...]

  2. The M&P Project: Apex Tactical RAM | Re-Gun says:

    [...] one thing I really had issues with when I tried out the M&P seems to be a symptom of the overall trigger design. That is, of course, the utter lack of trigger [...]

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