Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Gun Test: Performance Center Shield

Guns and Gear Contributor

By John Connor, GUNS Magazine

On December 1, 2015, shortly after I received test samples of their new Performance Center ported SHIELD pistols, Smith & Wesson issued a surprising press release: They had just shipped their 1 millionth SHIELD. Think about that for a moment. One million SHIELDs. Not “planned,” “ordered,” or “in the pipeline,” but shipped. I know Smith & Wesson serves a global market, but let’s put that in context with the United States. Our current population is about 320 million people. That would be one SHIELD for every 320 Americans. And this little pistol has only been on the market since mid-2012. Surprised now?

The sheer numbers may be surprising but the SHIELD’s popularity is not. I received one from the first wave of production and reviewed it in the March 2013 issue of GUNS Magazine. In that evaluation I called it “The Goldilocks Gun,” because it’s not too small, not too large, but just right. In my XXL hands, if it were any smaller or lighter, it would likely be difficult to point and control, and recoil might be decidedly unpleasant. If any larger and heavier, it wouldn’t carry so comfortably or conceal so easily.

Since then I’ve also found the dimensions and ergonomics provide an excellent fit for an unusually wide range of hand sizes and finger lengths. It really is an exceptionally “people-pleasing” pistol in all its size-and-shape aspects, as well as in reliability, accuracy and ease of maintenance. That doesn’t happen by accident, or result from a clutch of nervous executives bleating “We need a new subcompact pistol design! Make one! Get it to market, yesterday!” No, it’s the result of thoughtful design and execution.

A few more observations: Especially considering their numbers and relative newness, in the online forums there is a notable absence of user complaints or even casual criticism. Also, I just searched two big national gun broker sites for used SHIELD pistols for sale. One site had 13 listed, the other had none. What does all this tell me?
Overwhelmingly, SHIELD owners are quietly, perhaps a little smugly, satisfied—and they’re holding on to them. I’m one of those people.

So much has been written about the SHIELD and its mechanically similar siblings in the M&P pistol family—including, by me—I won’t go into all the mech-and-tech specs. Let’s talk about what’s new and different.

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The SHIELD trigger is more conventional, but has been improved and is smoother in this current version. Both triggers pivot prior to start the
pull to release the trigger block feature. Photos: Joseph R. Novelozo

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Easily seen, the two most visible changes are the Hi-Viz fiber-optic “LitePipe” sights and the two rows of oblong slots in the slide. In any condition brighter than pitch darkness, those fiber optic sights are a fine improvement. As soon as I had paid Smith & Wesson for my original test SHIELD, I installed a set of Hi-Viz green LitePipe sights on it. Smith & Wesson opted for red pipes in the rear sight and bright green in the front—an excellent choice for both speed and precision.

The oblong slide slots number three per side, set at 2 and 10 o’clock. The forward pair of slots are functioning gas exhaust ports. Peep down through them and you’ll see they align with a pair of smaller oblong slots in the barrel, also positioned at 2 and 10 o’clock about a 1/2-inch behind the muzzle. Their seemingly diminutive size and placement reflect the evolution of gas port technology.

Not so long ago gas ports were either big holes drilled in the tops of slides and barrels, or lateral trenches looking like they were cut with a fat hacksaw. Both spewed huge gouts of hot gasses and vision-killing flames in low light. Time, study and science showed smaller ports at V-angles were far more efficient at damping muzzle flip, and much kinder to the shooter’s night vision.

Looking closely it seems the textured areas of the frame are a little more pronounced, still enhancing your grip without being so aggressive as to abrade skin or fabric. But for me, the best improvements are inside the ported SHIELD. The data short-sheet I first received said simply “enhanced trigger.” That was an understatement. Both the standard trigger sear and striker plunger are replaced with Performance Center parts, plus, I suspect, complemented by some gentle kiss-and-tickle work by Smith’s best gunsmiths to produce a significantly improved trigger pull and a faster, more certain re-set.

Examining my standard SHIELD and the Performance Center ported model fieldstripped side by side, the only difference I could see was in their striker plungers. The visible end of mine is rather sharp and squared, where the Performance Center part is radiused around the circumference and nicely polished. But oh, what a difference in the hand! Trigger pull weight is about 7 pounds, length of pull and re-set are consistent between the two, but the ported SHIELD’s pull is significantly smoother, the break cleaner and the re-set far more crisp, tactile and even audible.

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Winchester Defend and Hornady Critical Duty ammo both performed superbly. Shown are rapid fire 9-shot groups from seven yards.

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Cousin MacKenzie gladly assisted with test shooting. Look close and you’ll see those bright HI-VIZ fiber optic sights.

The Performance Center’s goals were to reduce felt recoil while delivering improved muzzle control, speed and accuracy—and they did it. For me, the proof was on the targets and the timer.

Shooting 2-handed and rested, 5-round groups at 10 yards were roughly consistent between my standard SHIELD and the new ported model. Where they differed, the ported SHIELD’s groups were only tenths of an inch smaller on average; probably the product of a cleaner trigger break. The real improvements appear when you simulate defensive shooting, emptying their 7+1 and 8+1 magazines rapidly cadenced about one shot per second and the ported SHIELD really shone when doing so 1-handed. With the ported SHIELD I also shaved a full second or more on elapsed times.

For example, 2-handed at 7 yards firing 9 shots in just under 10 seconds, one group measured 1.625 inches high by 1.875 inches wide using Hornady Critical Duty 135-grain FlexLock. A similar drill using 147-grain Winchester Defend JHP’s left 7 out of 9 rounds touching, measuring 1.625 inches high by 0.75 inch wide. Two fliers opened that group up to 2.125 inches high by 2.375 inches wide. Overall, 1-handed rapid-fire groups with the ported SHIELD were about 25 to 30 percent smaller than groups shot with my standard SHIELD—and a shade faster. Is that pudding proof enough?

Reliability can be summed up thusly: I had one failure to feed fully into battery from the first magazine load—period. In all-angles all-holds testing I fired 200 rounds of 147-grain Winchester Train (a perfect match for their Defend loads). Those and the Hornady Critical Duty ammo shot straight and functioned flawlessly.

It wasn’t long after the first ported full-size M&P pistols appeared that users began demanding ported SHIELDs too. Smith & Wesson has delivered them and more. There are now 16 variants of the SHIELD to choose from, and this Performance Center Ported SHIELD certainly earns a top slot in that lineup. All that’s left is for you to try one!

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M&P9 C.O.R.E. and SHIELD

Maker: Smith & Wesson, 2100 Roosevelt Avenue
Springfield, MA 01104, (800) 331-0852,
http://gunsmagazine.com/company/smith-wesson/

Gun: M&P9 Ported C.O.R.E. M&P9 SHIELD Ported
Action Type: Striker-fired semi-auto Striker-fired semi-auto
Caliber: 9mm 9mm
Capacity: 17+1 8+1, 7+1
Barrel Length: 4.25 inches 3.1 inches
Overall Length: 7.5 inches 6.1 inches
Weight: 23.5 ounces 19 ounces
Finish (Slide): Black Black
Sights: Fixed 3-dot Fixed Hi-Viz fiber optic
Grips: Polymer, 3 interchangeable palm swells Polymer
Price: $895 $519

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