Product Review: A Geezer's Take On the S&W Shield
This is a discussion on Product Review: A Geezer's Take On the S&W Shield within the Defensive Carry Guns forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; I fully realize that I'm an anachronism when it comes to most things, guns included. I live in the past. Was born too late. Simply ...
July 16th, 2014 01:51 AM
Product Review: A Geezer's Take On the S&W Shield
I fully realize that I'm an anachronism when it comes to most things, guns included. I live in the past. Was born too late. Simply don't appreciate the catalog offerings of current firearms manufacturers as I should. It wasn't always so and I once pored over the latest offerings by all the gun makers and importers and lusted after most of them. Just as the political center has dramatically shifted to the left, firearms design, construction, and marketing has shifted in a different direction while I've remained too rigidly fixed with my notion of what constitutes a proper firearm.
So, back in February, Valentine's Day to be exact, I was surprised to find myself exiting a west Fort Worth, Texas gun shop carrying a new Smith & Wesson .40 Shield, ammo, and quite a nicely designed and fabricated leather IWB holster. A Shield was furthest thing from my mind when I went in there looking to buy some cleaning supplies and maybe some primers if they could be had at any sort of a bargain.
It’s plastic. It’s cheesy, ugly, and feels oh so cheap-o, with no “workmanship” to speak of, but I really wanted to learn to like this one. The Shield has some positive features about it. I’ve loved the notion of the .40 diameter bullet since before there were .40 automatic pistol cartridges of any description even marketed and I was handloading .38-40 with its .401” bullets and dreaming of “what if.”
The Shield's grip dimensions fit my hand really well and I appreciate thinness of the single-stack design. The gun is adequately compact yet ergonomically sound, giving one opportunity to fully control it when shooting it. Sights are distinct and properly proportioned to show the right amount of light between the front and rear sights, the corners sharply squared off and easy to see. "Group-ability" with all ammunition tried in it so far has been excellent. It’ll really stack ‘em in there on paper at 10 yards. On other shooting outings, steel discs have been engaged at up to 25 yards with decent results … with compensation, and there’s the problem. The gun shot 10-12 inches to the left of point of aim at only 10 yards. While one could live with this in a dedicated short range self-defense piece, “Kentucky windage” is not gratifying and holding off of steel disc targets at 25 yards in order to register hits just won’t cut it.
After the initial session out at our old family place and some sessions with the pistol at the local club range on different occasions, we retreated to the reloading bench to work over the sights in anticipation of a big shooting weekend with some gun buds. The obvious thing to do, for guys who don’t want to first read directions, is to loosen the set screw in the Shield's rear sight and drift it as required. A DC Forum post about a fellow who had cracked his slide in drifting the rear sight came to mind so the owner’s manual was consulted (proving the usefulness of reading DC Forum, even on topics one isn’t much personally interested in). Sure ‘nuff, the owner’s manual says to leave the rear sight alone and accomplish all adjustment through the front sight. A perfunctory effort was made with a small brass hammer and brass punch on the inaugural shooting of the pistol but to no avail. This time we went at it in earnest. We stuck it in a proper vise. We got a bigger punch. We got a bigger hammer. We put a little propane torch heat to it, just a touch to loosen any possible Lok-Tite. The sight? No budg-y. This is a consumer disservice for a gun to be shipped that is so recalcitrant over a sight adjustment that is prescribed in the owner’s manual. It really shouldn’t have been sent out shooting so far to the left in the first place.
While at the big weekend shoot, some folks suggested that different bullet weights might impact the target more closely to point of aim. I’ve never before experience bullet weight alone making that much horizontal difference at 10 yards with any handgun. I’ve tried the gun with both the personally favored bullet weight, 180 grain, and with some 165 grain loads and both shoot equally far to the left. I’m not interested in using the gun with some flea-weight 135 grain load and don’t believe it’d matter for point-of-impact correction.
So, the rear sight was eyed balefully. Some internet research indicated that it was a big mistake to attempt to adjust the Shield’s rear sight while some folks were claiming good fortune with adjusting this rear sight. So, some heat was applied, the screw loosened, and an attempt was made. No go.
Next, a trip to the local gunsmith was undertaken; a really perceptive individual, very knowledgeable. A corner of his lip curled into a slight sneer of contempt as he took the pistol from my hands, all while wearing his slick Colt Series 80 Government Model .45 in his ever-present shoulder holster. The initial sight whacking, while chucked up in his vise, gave similar lack of results so he fired up his torch and applied some heat, all with the same dismal results I had at home. Next, he retrieved his sight pusher, the application of which could not get the stubborn front sight to yield. He ruefully remarked that no amount of whacking it could produce the efficiency of the pusher. He said he could heat it a bit more but he was afraid of melting the paint in the front sight dot. I told him to go ahead and I’d deal with the dot later. So more heat and more sight pushing commenced to no avail.
Now the front sight white dot was dulled and misshapen. No big deal. The muzzle end of the slide is slightly less pristine as well but it can’t be helped. Before resorting to high explosives I called Smith & Wesson and shipping label/instructions arrived in my inbox within 7 days. I’m not desperate for a handgun so just patiently awaited the learning experience of shipping the first new gun I’ve ever purchased that had to be sent back to the factory for a warranty adjustment. When I inquired if this was an occasional issue with the Shield, “Pat” at Smith & Wesson allowed that perhaps the barrel was faulty. I’m not following that line of reasoning but perhaps she knows something I don’t. Shame really, to replace the barrel as the pistol groups so well for what it is.
The Shield was returned in three weeks time. The front sight had been completely replaced and the trigger had been adjusted. The Smith & Wesson factory warranty service was first rate and must be rated as a good experience. No charge was made for the work which included replacement of the front sight which had been mauled in the attempts to induce it to move. More shooting time was given the Shield during June and it was seriously carried for the first time this past weekend.
Carrying the Shield
I'm friends with a couple who are regional gun show promoters. Several times per year I do overnight security for them at their shows. This past weekend the Shield was carried rather than the usual K-Frame Smith & Wesson or Colt Government Model in their familiar holsters. A couple of back-to-back 15-hour stints tells a person a lot about holster suitability and comfort, especially important with an IWB holster.
The D.M. Bullard "IWB" clip holster was selected from inventory at the gun shop when the Shield was purchased. I had no familiarity with the brand but it was available for inspection and seemed well constructed. After the second all-nighter no sore spots were discovered so the holster is comfortable with the right trousers and belt. The open-topped holster retains the pistol securely but the draw from the holster is convenient and re-holstering the Shield is easy as well. I'm very happy with this holster.
Link for D. M. Bullard holsters: Gun Leather, Concealment and Cowboy holsters, Azle, TX.
Limited Chronograph tests and the .40 Shield
Federal Hydra Shok 180 grain JHP
Muzzle Velocity: 945 fps
Muzzle Energy: 357 ft./lbs.
Extreme Spread: 48 fps
Standard Deviation: 17 fps
Fiocchi 165 grain FMJ flat point
MV: 975 fps
ME: 348 ft./lbs.
ES: 38 fps
SD: 13 fps
Winchester "White Box" 165 grain FMJ flat point
MV: 927 fps
ME: 315 ft./lbs.
ES: 68 fps
SD: 26 fps
Handloaded 180 grain cast lead truncated cone bullet, 4.8 grains Unique
MV: 842 fps
ME: 283 ft./lbs.
ES: 70 fps
SD: 25 fps
Oehler Model 12 chronograph used
Perceived positive attributes
Functional Reliability – To date, the Shield has had approximately 700 rounds fired through it. It’s easy to determine round count as the empty boxes of brass are sitting in the floor in front of the handgun ammo locker where a space on the shelf for .40 S&W needs to be made between the .38-40 and the .41 Long Colt. Since Valentine’s day, four 100-round boxes of Winchester FMJ flat points, in both 180 grain and 165 grain weights have been fired off, one box of 50 Fiocchi 165 grain FMJ flat points, 14 rounds of Federal 180 grain Hydra Shok, and approximately 200 rounds of 180 grain .40 S&W handloads, kindly provided by my brother-in-law. It’s worked with FMJ, JHP, and a mildly loaded cast lead bullet handload. I’ve fired most rounds but it has also been tried out by my wife, and at least four other shooters who tried it on a shooting fest weekend earlier this year. From the first round fired, it has fed and functioned with no glitches, no matter who grasped it and sent rounds down range with it. It’s yet to malfunction in any way. The pistol was cleaned and re-oiled between the various range sessions. Both when initially acquired and prior to shooting use after being returned this week from the factory, the Shield was field stripped and oiled with light machine oil before use. It was pretty heavily oiled first time out back in February but oil was deliberately applied sparingly after return from warranty adjustment in an effort to see how little lubrication one could get by with. The Shield is giving good function with the light application of oil.
Accuracy – Excellent! Better than anticipated. Good, useful accuracy is on tap with the .40 Shield and most reasonable distances for which the pistol would be used in a self-defense scenario. Sights provided are adequate. The pistol shoots nice round and tight groups at distances up to 15 yards and rang 12-inch steel discs to 25 yards with boring regularity. A “long-range effort at 50 yards was less than could have been hoped for but this should be attributed to the shooter, who is less than enthused about any DAO automatic trigger. Smith & Wesson installed the replacement front sight in a manner in which the pistol now shoots to point-of-aim with 165-180 grain loadings out to about 25 yards, using a 6 o’clock hold. Many would consider this to be shooting too high but I can deal with it. I’ve deliberately adjusted some handguns having adjustable sights to be used with a 6 o’clock hold.
Ergonomics – When I handled the first Shield I’d seen, I sorta had an “ahhh…” moment when grasping the pistol, immediately gaining the impression that the Shield has a “big pistol” feel for a compact. Some popular compact pistols are so stunted that their ability to be well and securely gripped or pointed is compromised and some control is sacrificed as a result. This is the first and only Shield I’ve actually shot and my opinion has held that dimensions are beneficial from a shooting standpoint. Both an extension magazine for range use and a compact magazine for compact carry use are provided and the gun handles well with both. The 7-shot extension magazine offers increased purchase for control and is so nice to use on the range. The 6-shot magazine shortens the available grip but the pistol remains completely controllable. The grip frame is designed to be narrow and flat which aids in concealment but it’s girth is adequate for the person with large hands to grasp. Some familiarization may be required with the Shield as the narrow grip frame may promote pulled shots to either side of point-of-aim. Attention to one’s grip of the pistol and care given in positioning one’s finger properly on the trigger, centering it rather than exerting pressure toward one side of the trigger, and pulling the trigger straight back will defeat any tendency to pull shots.
Caliber and Recoil – The .40 S&W Shield is a well-mannered pistol due to its ergonomics. Perhaps the plastic frame gives a cushion-y effect but since the gun adequately fills my hand it stays put during recoil, is very pleasant to fire, and any follow-up shots may be accurately delivered with ample speed to suit me. Recoil is mild and pleasant with this one and there are no issues with .40 S&W “recovery time” as is sometimes dithered over in Forum posts. I like the notion of the .40 with its larger diameter and heavier bullet. So, given the size of the Shield, I’m tickled with the notion of the .40 S&W chambering, more so than I would be choosing the same pistol in 9mm. I see the .40 S&W as a reasonable alternate choice to the greatly beloved (at least in this household) .45ACP The .40 S&W is easily managed in the Shield.
Personal opinion ahead. I rate the .40 S&W ahead of the 9mm for personal self-defense, not subscribing to the notion that all pistol calibers are effectively the same, especially because of some sort of “modern expanding bullet technology.” In reading forum posts over several years time, this assertion about the 9mm being equal to other handgun rounds of larger caliber seems to only be embraced by the 9mm fans. Nothing wrong with 9mm. It’s equal to the .38 Special , a cartridge that I love and on which I rely heavily. However, if I can have larger and heavier bullets in a controllable package I’m willing to give the 9mm a miss. I don’t place nearly as much stock in the expanding bullet designs as current conventional wisdom dictates. Anyway, as a handgun cartridge for the automatic pistol, the .40 S&W wins over the 9mm in my mind.
Don’t like the popular notion of shrunken 9mm pistols for my own use for any purpose. If one is going to carry and shoot a pistol of decent size then it’s too easy to obtain models that shoot both fatter and heavier bullets than the 9mm can muster. It’s one thing to love Smith & Wesson K-Frame .38s and .357s and the Colt Detective Special (and I do love ‘em). They take cartridges having dimensions at the top end of their dimensional design capacity. But K-Frame “rough equivalent sized” automatics (for concealment purposes) can be had in both .45 and .40. No need to be limited to 9mm which will forever amount to nothing more than the .38 Special range of performance to my mind.
Perceived negative attributes
Trigger – The trigger is a particular flavor of “yuck.” The Shield I bought did not have the decent trigger-pull qualities of either some Smith & Wesson M&P pistols I’ve sampled and shot or the earlier 9mm Shield I had opportunity to dry-fire. This was disappointing as those M&Ps were pretty good for the DAO breed of handgun and I had high hopes for the Shield. A distinct hard spot followed by a modicum of creep before the sear released was a characteristic of this particular Shield. The note accompanying my Shield back to the factory made mention of the poor trigger and Smith & Wesson did give the trigger some additional attention. It is eased up to some extent now but is more inconsistent than it was prior to the warranty work. Curiously, there is still a bit of a hard spot, occasionally but not always. Perhaps further improvement may occur through shooting use. A dry-firing effort is being undertaken to see if this will help.
More opinion ahead. I’m just not ever going to properly appreciate the double-action-only automatic pistol. I dislike the whole DAO handgun concept which just seems dumb. The rifles and shotguns enjoyed around here don’t have a wretched double-action trigger nor do the handguns that are most appreciated so why in the world have a handgun possessing a trigger with a designed-in impediment to good shooting? Yeah, it’s said to be “safer” and yeah, it’s suppose to aid in simplicity of use under duress. I don’t believe in either claim though. Though it's claimed that Jeff Cooper later came around to embrace the DAO pistol, I have to agree with the comment he was said to have made: “Double-action-only pistols are a solution for a problem that doesn't exist.” If the Shield was a double-action/single-action design or even a single-action only design like the beloved 1911 then I’d esteem it much more highly.
Double-action-only was once a rare feature in the handgun world with only the various Smith & Wesson “Centennial” models (Models 40 and 42) and the odd H&K VP 70 featuring double-action-only triggers. Once both law enforcement and the self-defense oriented shooting public bought into the notion of DAO, it became hugely popular; almost overnight. Popular it may be, but I’ve not seen a valid reason for it and I’m not required to follow the crowd and like it.
Plastic (weight) – Plastic arms are not esthetically pleasing to me. Plastic may hold manufacturing costs down thus making arms more accessible to shooters. Plastic may decrease weight, a trait that so many these days find desirable. Plastic may have low-maintenance characteristics to its exterior surfaces. Plastic in firearms is definitely here to stay but I don’t have to like it personally. It’s ugly, it feels wrong, and it doesn’t lend weight to the pistol. I would prefer that the Shield to be constructed of forged steel and be heavier as a result. It’d be better balanced rather than being top-heavy as it is, having a heavy steel slide riding atop a very lightweight frame. It’d be more like the all forged steel Star BM that lives around here, a little chunk of a 9mm compact pistol that is quite heavy for its compact size. Probably no one else in the world who buys and shoots the Shield feels this way about the pistol though.
The Shield gives me the impression of being cheap-o, unsubstantial, and even flimsy in its execution. It’s no different than the impression I’ve had of a Kel Tec P3AT kept on hand for some years. The plastic frame just above the trigger is amazingly thin and “bend-y.” I’m sure Smith & Wesson put a lot of effort in engineering the pistol. It is supposed that it is adequate but the several photos I’ve seen on the Smith & Wesson forum in a thread about .40 S&W ka-booms and the resulting damaged frames makes me wonder about the level of protection for the shooter’s hand in the event of a cartridge failure. Maybe it’s a non-issue but I’m going to be leery of handloading the .40 S&W to max for use in the Shield. And handload for it I will, no matter what sort of provisos the owner’s manual may publish against the use of handloads.
Magazine springs – The magazines are pretty wretched in that they possess the stiffest springs I’ve ever seen. They really need the Luger magazine thumb piece as an assist. They are a real bear to load to capacity, both of them. During efforts to load, I’ve twisted the grip extension loose on the extension magazine to the point where it is quite loose. Maybe a touch of super-glue will be called for to keep things in place. I left the magazines loaded in between range sessions to see if the springs would relent. They have … barely. They are still not user friendly at all and their stiffness represents a real downer when one is wishing to have an extended shooting session with the pistol. One too quickly wearies of fooling with loading the things.
Features that I feel neutral about
Safety – Some folks get worked up into a lather over the safety and want it removed. I just don’t care. Much has been made of the Shield’s safety from some quarters, decrying it as useless, hard to use, and open to the possibility of the risk of being inadvertently applied and so giving the user a surprise just when an emergency has arisen. Smith & Wesson has just released a variant which would address such concerns. In my view the safety is a complete non-issue. It’s unobtrusive, it isn’t a 1911 safety but it’s not that hard to use, and in playing with the gun I haven’t seen it prone to inadvertently being re-positioned. Perhaps if carried on occasion, I may come to a different opinion about the safety but for now it is a non-issue.
Three-dot Sights – The front and rear sights are nicely proportioned with rear notch designed with the right width to let the right amount of light in on either side of the sharply squared off front sight blade. The three dot system doesn’t do anything for me one way or the other. This is the very first handgun I’ve ever acquired that featured such sights. Perhaps if I become more used to them then I’ll appreciate them more. I’ve always appreciated flat black front and rear sights on handguns and the white dots could even be said to add more visual clutter. I don’t care about low-light visibility capabilities and sure am not a candidate for the various aftermarket night sights. Perhaps I should care more. I’ve used handguns in low light conditions against varmints and critters over the years along with playing with shooting under low-light conditions and never felt hindered to the point that I wanted to seek out different sights.
Single-Stack and Magazine Capacity – Some aren’t keen on the magazine capacity of the Shield. I’ve been a revolver fan all my life, along with loving and using the basic 1911, so am at home with the magazine capacity of the Shield. I value the narrow profile of the pistol more than I desire “lots a’ bullets.” If high capacity is important to a person then the Shield isn’t the choice for him however it’s right where it needs to be for my purposes.
The Shield is a viable choice for the modern-minded, self-defense oriented individual. In .40 S&W it represents a lot of power in a compact, yet easily handling package and for the 9mm fan it represents an additional nice choice for concealment purposes. I am blessed with a kind brother-in-law who keeps up with and acquires most of the latest trends in handguns so I get to regularly sample them. The Shield compares well with most of them. He does have a small Kahr .45 that I covet. The Shield would be near perfect for an old fossil like me if it was of all steel construction and featured at least a DA/SA system. Since Smith & Wesson generously rectified the sight issue, I intend to live with the Shield, at least for a spell, so as to gain the “full” experience of using a “new crop” handgun design.
Charter Member of the DC .41 LC Society "Get heeled! No really"
“No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”
Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893
July 16th, 2014 01:58 AM
July 16th, 2014 03:14 AM
Bryan, a thorough and entertaining writeup!
From all the great reviews of the Shield, I thought I was behind the 8-ball in not getting one, but your review convinced me that I'm just fine with my Kahr polymer-framed CW9 and all-steel K40 for compact guns.
NRA Endowment Member
NROI Chief Range Officer
July 16th, 2014 03:41 AM
I think Im more impressed with how well written this review was than what it actually was about! Well done sir!
July 16th, 2014 03:59 AM
Nice review! The local pawn that I use as an FFL for transfers has a very nice used Shield in the case for $349! That strikes me as a great price if it's in as good a condition as it looks. Between my [mechanically flawless] Beretta Nano and my Ruger LCR I have the micro-sidearm thing pretty well covered but the Shield looks interesting. I'm not all that worried about capacity either. If I want capacity I'll carry my HK USPf9 or P30S.
"When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." - Sinclair Lewis
“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” - Naguib Mahfouz
July 16th, 2014 04:00 AM
Originally Posted by bmcgilvray
So it was boring and you would rather shoot a Kahr45..........Same here bro
LOL good write up though
July 16th, 2014 05:44 AM
Thank you for the excellent review. I was also considering a Shield for the near future but I think I may hold off. I don't like guns that need to go back to the factory when new. Yours isn't the first story I've heard where the sights weren't aligned properly from the factory.
If you have never broken your gun or bled on your gun in training, you're doing it wrong!
Train hard, live easy.
July 16th, 2014 06:54 AM
"Everybody gets knocked down in life. How you choose to get back up is up to you!"
July 16th, 2014 08:03 AM
Hey Bryan, nicely done. And a bit of a weird walk on the wild side, huh? I've wandered into the world of plastic a few times but the 40 Shield was probably my most successful experience. My obsession with 45 ACP made me move on. However, at price per pound, I expect that I'll put another Shield in the safe.
Your write up was excellent. I found the trigger to be the single, largest disappointment in the platform. I learned to ignore it but it was creepy and gritty, though I never tackled the effort to slick it down a bit. Your experience with the sights was a hoot. Mine were fine though the white dots like to fall out of the Shield. But I've heard of others that required industrial hydraulics to adjust theirs as well.
Carry on and thanks for the review.
Btw. I had to buy into an uplula gizmo for stacking the mags. I felt a bit girly in the doing but those buggers are stiff and they will never relax to the level of a Wilson Combat 45 ACP 7 stack.
What if the Hokey Pokey IS what it's all about?
July 16th, 2014 08:05 AM
July 16th, 2014 08:20 AM
Really useful review. It pains me to think that I've recently decided that I don't need any more pistols. The Shield seems like a very solid carry piece once you get everything working and set up right.
July 16th, 2014 08:28 AM
I remember some time ago when BMC hinted he would do a review on some tactical tupperware and I have been waiting patiently ever since. Fantastic review!!! I was definitely interested in your opinions, Bryan, on account of you packing the old school wheelies. Thanks for the write up!
"Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishfull thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms."
-Robert A. Heinlein
July 16th, 2014 08:41 AM
very well written, as I carry a .40 Shield myself. The trigger is my real complaint with mine but im about to solve that with an Apex carry kit and since the sight has to come off anyway it will get either a XS big dot or a Meprolite 2 dot set put on it before it goes back together
July 16th, 2014 09:15 AM
Good write up.
I agree on 40 S&W vs 9mm.
That first photo...could be your new avatar
No internal lock or magazine disconnect on my pistols!
July 16th, 2014 09:25 AM
Great review. Good lesson on gunsmithing and S&W customer service. You convinced me to stay with my Kahr CM9.
"The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed." Alexander Hamilton
Distinguished Life Member NRA
Maryland Shall Issue
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