Regular readers of this publication will know that we are fans of the venerable .45 ACP cartridge. John Browning’s genius back in 1904 still packs a solid punch and all the newcomers to the dance haven’t improved things very much. Because of this affinity for the .45, I’m always looking for another piece to add to my arsenal in this caliber. This brings us to this month’s review: the Smith & Wesson M&P .45.
First some background: the M&P (Military and Police) is a short recoiled, locked breech semi-automatic pistol manufactured with a Zytel reinforced polymer frame and the slide is Melonite coated stainless steel. The first M&Ps were introduced by S&W in the summer of 2005 with the .45 caliber full size production in 2007, followed by the mid, compact and Pro series in 2008. S&W offers a dizzying array of models when it comes to their .45 M&P. You can have this pistol with or without a thumb safety (required for military trials), in full-size, mid-size or compact, with either the 4.5 or 4 inch barrel and in states that require a magazine disconnect safety (more on this later) with or without that option also. Oh, and you can have any of these in black or Dark Earth Brown frame.
The pistol has a striker-fired mechanism similar to that of a Glock or Springfield XD. It is closer to the XD than the Glock as the Glock has a tensioned striker. Anyone familiar with either of these pistols will have no problem disassembling their M&P. One change of note; there is a sear deactivation lever that “allows” the user to separate the upper assembly from the lower (field strip) without having to pull the trigger. For someone used to stripping a Glock, this is a mild annoyance. You will need some device (a pen will do) to pull the lever up to disengage the sear, allowing the slide to ride forward. There is also a loaded chamber indicator in the form of a viewing port on top of the slide.
What I noticed first about this pistol was how comfortable it was, right out of the box. This was due to the interchangeable (there are three) grips or palm swells that ship with each pistol. When I initially handled this in my local gun store (LGS), the medium grips were installed. Having tried all three at home I settled on the small, thinking it would make the transition to slide and magazine release easier. Well, it did, but it didn’t fill my hand as well as the medium while shooting. Since shooting is the whole point, I went back to the medium grips. They are very similar in feel to my .308 bolt stock’s grip. The M&P series also come with ambidextrous slide release and a magazine release that can be installed left or right. I tried it on the right side… too different from my other pistols. Those of you who only carry one firearm and have small hands might like it. Maybe not.
The sights that come installed are standard three dot and are dovetailed into the slide, front and rear. There is an integrated Picatinny rail in case you want to hang some bling off the front of your pistol. The M&Ps ship with two magazines but I was lucky enough to have a coupon from Smith & Wesson for two more magazines (woohooo!). The .45 caliber mags are stainless steel and a bit more expensive than other calibers.
Now, since I live in the socialist state of California with all her idiotic gun laws (you people in Massachusetts will understand), this pistol came with a magazine disconnect “feature.” What this means is there is another lever inside the magazine well of the lower receiver, right next to the sear deactivation lever. Having done a bit of research (Google is good), I found that you can remove this lever and install a small spring to take up the space. It turns out that a 1911 magazine release spring, cut down to length, works perfectly. Now I can have a functioning weapon without having to have the magazine installed. Duh.
After a couple trips to the range with this pistol I came to the conclusion that the trigger pull was a bit notchy for my tastes and I was having a hard time determining the reset point of the trigger. With a little research I found the people at Apex Tactical Specialties had just what I was looking for. I ordered up a Hard Sear and the Ultimate Striker Block. Apex also offers the Mag Safety Deactivation Spring for $4.00. Anyone capable of pulling their pistols down to pins should have no problem installing these items. That being said, you should have them installed by a gunsmith if you have ANY doubts about your ability. One thing I noticed that put me off was the use of rolled rather than solid pins in the M&Ps. I’m not a big fan of rolled pins. I’m sure someone can come up with a good reason for them (other than they’re cost effective) but I can’t think of one.
So, back to the range I went with the Hard Sear and Ultimate Striker Block installed and a few more magazines. My group size did reduce noticeably. I’m pretty comfortable saying the trigger improvement was most of the reason. Of course, some of it was just getting more time behind the pistol. After firing over 1100 rounds of everything from crappy ball reloads to full power duty loads, I did not have one malfunction. One shooter at the range complained that the spent cases were bouncing off her forehead but after watching her shoot I determined that her grip needed help. She was essentially limp-wristing the pistol. After correcting the issue the brass was thrown directly right, as it should. I had no problems hitting a one-foot diameter steel plate at 25 yards with this firearm. It balances well and the pistol sits pretty low in my hand, helping get my follow-ups back on target quickly.
My first thought upon receiving the M&P was to use it for practical shooting competitions. Maybe pair it up with an AR and a Benelli M4 and try some three-gun competitions. About the only thing I can think of changing on this pistol is the sights and get a few holsters. I’ll probably go with some XS-Sights and a Blackhawk! Serpa in a waist setup and a MOLLE carrier for a tactical vest. As for now, I’m just going to shoot the crap out of this .45 and get as comfortable with it as I can. I may have found my new favorite handgun.