By Massad Ayoob, GUNS Magazine
In only about 4 years after its introduction, Smith & Wesson’s Shield variation of their polymer-framed, striker-fired Military & Police series had already sold a million units. The pistol fit the hand well, with great trigger reach, yet was slim and flat as well as compact in all dimensions, and hit the bull’s-eye of its target, the concealed carry market. Originally offered in 9mm Parabellum and .40 S&W (with the former by far the most popular), it was introduced in .45 ACP in 2016.
The .45 Shield met with instant welcome. Two claims stood out from early adopters: “awesome trigger” and “great ergonomics.” When my test sample Shield .45 arrived, serial number HNS6552, one of my test crew got to shoot it before I did. Steve Denney, a retired police supervisor, told me it had come out of the box shooting left, but he corrected it with a universal sight pusher. Thanks, Steve!
Steve was the first on the test team to shoot this gun. He was the first to like it, but not the last.
The S&W Shield proved utterly reliable in our test. Mas handed
it around to a large group of disparate people in his classes
and it ran 100 percent. The knife is a Kruder Bliss Black.
In the month of August 2016 I had the chance to pass this gun around to fellow instructors while teaching in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. We could all tell we were shooting a .45 Shield and not the 9mm or the .40 (duh!), but this group of experienced handgunners were pretty much agreed the recoil was less than we would have expected from a full-power .45 ACP out of a petite polymer pistol weighing only about 21 ounces unloaded.
The right-hand-only thumb safety was easier for me to off-safe than the ones on my other Shields, though there seems to be no visible difference in dimension. (If you’ll forgive a pun, my thumb just tells me so, even if I can’t put my finger on it.) However, to on-safe, I had to turn the pistol a bit and break my hold for the shooting hand’s thumb to reach it, or use my support hand thumb. I find the same true with my 9mm and .40 Shields. For those who don’t care for a thumb safety at all on this type of pistol, S&W offers the .45 Shield in a no-thumb-safety configuration.
The stainless steel slide and frame is nicely sculpted for
concealed carry and the slide is coated in black Melonite.
Mas advises against using the forward under-slide serrations
to manipulate the slide.
The triggerguard (right, middle) is rounded and the trigger
itself pivots to start the release. Mas found the trigger
smooth and light.
Each Shield in each chambering comes with one short magazine for maximum concealment of the loaded pistol, and one extended magazine creating room for the pinky finger on the grip. In the 9mm, round count is 7 and 8 respectively, while in both .40 and .45, it’s 6 and 7. In each caliber, add one more for the chambered round; these pistols are engineered to be “drop-safe.”
Recoil is subjective. Firing the 9mm, .40, and .45 Shields side by side on my range, the 9mm naturally kicked the least. To my own subjective senses, the .40 (with 180-grain subsonic FMJ) and the .45 (with 230-grain FMJ) were about equal, and neither objectionably more than the 9mm. For perspective, recoil is a lot more comfortable in the .45 Shield than .38 Special +P in the 5-shot, all-steel J-Frames once S&W’s bread-and-butter concealed handguns. Only one shooter felt the Shield .45’s greater recoil wasn’t worth the bigger hole. Several other testers said, “I’m getting one of these.” And one already had. He goes by the Internet nom de plume of “Justin Opinion” and his review of the .45 Shield can be found on the GunsAmerica website.
Although some testers found the stippling too aggressive, Mas
found it glued the pistol to his hand and caused no discomfort
in shooting. This version features a slide safety just under
the rear slide serrations, and to the left is the slide release.
Below is the mag release, which is positive in use yet secure
from accidental dropping of the mag in carry.
Reach to the trigger is short. This is one reason it has become very popular for folks with smaller hands. My fingers are about average length for an adult male, and this lets me get my distal joint instead of the pad of the index finger on the trigger, affording more leverage.
The .45 Shield has a new, more aggressive stippling pattern. It’s one of the first things a shooter notices picking it up. Shooters with .45 Shield experience seem split on this. I really like it, and so did most folks on the test team. On the Internet however, I see a few owners who feel the stippling is too aggressive, and feel it stings their hand upon recoil. Using my usual hard grasp I did feel the stippling each time the .45 Shield discharged, but it was closer to a “tingle” than a “sting.” If I had been shooting a thousand rounds a day, I might have changed my opinion partway through. The aforementioned Justin Opinion loves the rubbery Talon grip treatment for the Shield .45, and with this or a grip sleeve available, any downside to the .45 Shield’s aggressive stippling pretty much goes away.
A few years ago when Jim Unger of Smith & Wesson showed me the first Shields at a trade show, I exclaimed, “My God, Jim, the trigger is better than on your regular M&P’s!” Déjà vu! Almost everyone who tried our test sample said something like, “That’s the best pull I’ve ever felt on a factory Shield!” There’s a light, grit-free take-up… then a smooth, short “roll,” and finally, a clean release.
Testing the Shield .45’s trigger pull on the Lyman digital gauge, average pull weight from the toe of trigger ran 6 pounds. Average from the center of trigger turned out to be 6.63 pounds, which is less than the usual difference between these two measuring points on a pivoting trigger like the Shield’s.
At 25 yards from a Caldwell Matrix rest on a concrete bench, S&W’s .45 Shield was tested with factory loads in the three most popular bullet weights for the caliber. Group size was determined between the farthest shots being measured, center-to-center of the bullet holes, to the nearest 0.05-inch. Overall group size came first, a good determinant of what the gun could do in stabilized, experienced human hands with stress factored out, followed by measurement of the best three hits, which is a reliable predictor of what the whole 5-shot group would have been with the same gun and ammo from a machine rest.
Remington’s 185-grain JHP put all five shots in 1.45 inches, and the best three 0.30 center to center. This amazing “sub-group” consisted of one raggedy hole, the third bullet hole all but disappearing at the bottom between the other two in the cluster. This was the best group of the test.
SIG V-crown 200-grain JHP delivered five hits in 3.80 inches, the best three in 1.90. The 230-grain full metal jacket is the classic training load for a .45 ACP, and was represented here with Federal’s RTP, which stands for “Range, Target, Practice.” This load put all five 230-grain FMJ’s into 2.30 inches (talk about coincidence!) and 0.55 for the best three. Needless to say, I was happy with the accuracy.
There’s not a lot of size difference between Shields. Here are
the .45 (top), .40 (center, with mini Viridian light attached),
and (bottom) the 9mm.
The SIG 200-grain V-Crown JHP fired at 25 yards delivered
fine accuracy from the small pistol.
I lost count of how many rounds got put through the gun by the many hands offered a chance to shoot it, but several hundred including ball, assorted JHP, and even the occasional lead bullet reload went downrange. There were zero malfunctions of any kind. The only Shields I’ve seen malfunction in classes turned out to be bone dry, and once lubed perked 100 percent again. I expect similar performance long-term with the .45 version.
Worn in a Galco belt slide after 3 months plus carrying a full-size, all-steel 1911, the feathery Shield almost felt as if it wasn’t there; I kept touching it with my forearm or elbow to make sure the holster wasn’t empty. Concealment under an un-tucked, open-front shirt was fine. Switching a Kydex IWB from Green Force Tactical, the Shield .45 disappeared under a T-shirt… for a bit less than an hour. Remember our discussion of the aggressive stippling? The skin on my side was not as forgiving as that on my palm. I tucked in the T-shirt between gun and flesh, donned a vest, and all was fine again.
Dislikes? There were a few. I’ve mentioned the downside of the stippling issue, and the difficulty in putting it on-safe 1-handed. I am still trying to figure out the purpose of the ugly, vestigial little scallops on the lower front of the slide. They’re too small to give traction to a support hand performing a chamber check from the front, and to my mind, are close enough to the muzzle on this very short pistol for me to worry about using. Several users on the Internet and a couple of my test team complained about getting the last round or two in the magazine by hand, though even my old arthritic fingers could do it. I did notice inserting a full magazine with the slide forward on a tactical reload took a good, solid smack to guarantee seating, and this is a downside point for me.
The perks clearly outweigh the quirks, though. The accuracy was much better than I had dared to hope for, the recoil controllable, and the size almost unnoticeably greater than the smaller Shields that preceded the .45. It’s an excellent value at a manufacturer’s suggested retail of $479 comparing favorably with the price of subcompact .45’s of similar design, weight, size and capacity.
Steve Denny’s sight adjustment was spot on. Remington 185-grain
gave Mas the tightest group from the 25-yard bench right where
he aimed them.
Even practice ammo delivers fine accuracy. Here Federal RTP 230-grain
FMJ fired at 25 yards from the S&W Shield .45 put three together.
“Justin Opinion” demonstrates why he likes the .45 Shield.
The arrows show brass in the air from two rapid shots and
the pistol is already coming back on target.
M&P 45 Shield
2100 Roosevelt Avenue, Springfield, MA 01104 – (800) 331-0852
Action type: Striker fired semi-auto
Caliber: .45 ACP
Capacity: 6+1, 7+1
Barrel length: 3.3 inches
Overall length: 6.5 inches
Weight: 20.5 ounces (unloaded)
Finish: Armornite over stainless steel
Sights: 3-dot, fixed
Grips: Integral polymer frame
With loose-fitting pants and a pocket holster (above), trouser pocket
carry is possible with the Shield. Most carry the Shield in a hip holster.
This CrossBreed IWB (below) proved extremely comfortable.
Carrying the Shield
As the .45 Automatic Colt Pistol version joins the 9mm and .40 S&W Shield in your gunshop’s showcase, we are reminded why this pistol has become so popular for concealed carry permit holders, off duty cops and uniformed officers who carry backup guns. The .45 is 1.05-inch thick at its widest point, and the 9mm and .40 only 1/10-inch narrower. The Shield’s dimensions widen the number of its concealed carry options.
In a belly band, it conceals and carries quite comfortably under a tucked-in shirt in crossdraw, appendix, or behind on the strong-side hip. In the former two positions it’s short enough it probably won’t dig into your groin or thigh when sitting.
I found the Shield a little big for pocket carry, but many have found it more adaptable for this purpose than I. Its flat profile conceals well in “Dockers”-style dress slacks, or in cargo pants. Use a pocket holster!
Breast pocket carry suits the Shield also, though you’ll want heavier than tropical-weight fabric to prevent sag. Again, use some sort of “pistol pocket protector.” I like the Remora holster for this application.
The Shield seems to be most commonly carried on the belt. Its slim profile lends itself well to inside the waistband carry. I’ve found the CrossBreed with its wide, soft leather backing to be exquisitely comfortable with both .45 and smaller Shields. For the many who prefer outside the waistband holsters, the thinness of the Shield combined with its short dimension from butt to top of slide allows the best possible concealment while still affording swift access.
Don’t carry a pistol of this type loose in a pocket, or with anything else in the same pocket that’s holding it and its holster! For those who disregard this advice, the option of a right-hand-only thumb safety on the Shield allows at least one safety net.