My very first gun, meaning the first gun that I picked out for myself, was a Smith & Wesson Airweight 642 .38 Special revolver. The minute I held it in my hand, I knew it was the one I wanted to buy. I was determined to practice with it and carry it for protection; that gun was my constant companion for the next couple years. After taking multiple training classes during that time, and getting more experience with different guns, I decided to step into carrying a semi-automatic, and I’ve done so ever since. For me, there is some feeling of loyalty to the company that my first gun came from. So when I was asked to review the new Smith & Wesson M&P 45 Shield, I didn’t hesitate. I’ve wanted a .45-caliber gun that would work for concealed carry for quite awhile, and having had experience with the 9mm Shield, I was anxious to get my hands on the larger-caliber model.
Straight out of the box, it looked similar to the 9mm Shield. The main difference that stood out to me was the grip. Its rough texture is undoubtedly designed to help with control (which I’ll talk about in a minute). The Shield comes with a user’s manual, cable lock, and two single-stack magazines. One magazine holds 6 + 1 and is flush with the bottom of the grip; the other holds 7 + 1 and has the extended finger grip.
In addition, the Shield is striker-fired, has a manual thumb safety, white-dot front and rear sights, and a polymer grip and frame. The slide and barrel are made of stainless steel; the barrel is 3.3 inches long and the gun is 6.5 inches long overall, weighing 20.5 ounces.
It was windy and cold the day I picked up the tester Shield from my FFL dealer, but I decided to put some rounds through it on the outdoor range anyway. My biggest complaint was how stiff the magazines were to load; luckily, I had a magazine loader to help load it to capacity. Since that first day, I’ve shot about 300 rounds through the gun prior to my official evaluation, and the magazine has loosened up considerably.
For my evaluation, I used two types of ammunition: Aguila 230gr FMJ and Remington 185gr JHP High Terminal Performance. Since my purpose in owning this gun is for concealed carry, all my shots were taken at 7 yards (21 feet). I must also add that I am right-handed, but have recently been having some nerve pain in my right hand, which is aggravated by the recoil of any caliber higher than a .22. Since I’ve trained a lot with off-hand shooting, I decided to do this evaluation completely with my left hand. Depending on what my doctor says about my right hand, I might end up carrying and shooting left-handed eventually. Although the safety is on the wrong side for left-handed shooters, there’s also a no-safety option available. The magazine release button is also on the left side, so I’ll have to practice ejecting the magazine differently.
I started with the Aguila cartridges first, shooting 20 rounds in the freehand position. My first impression was how easy the gun was to control. As I mentioned, the grip is rough, which helps with controllability. Since the Shield uses a single-stack magazine, I anticipated a stout recoil, but was pleasantly surprised. At 7 yards, I got all my shots nearly on top of each other with ease, except for one lone flyer. The trigger felt smooth and crisp and had a short reset. As I mentioned earlier, the sights are white-dot. I prefer either night sights or fiber-optic sights, but those can be easily swapped in if you prefer.
Next, I used the Remington cartridges; the distance and shooting style remained the same. Felt recoil increased slightly with these rounds, but not enough to be unmanageable or uncomfortable. All 20 shots were within a few inches of each other. For personal defense at close distances, I’m happy with the accuracy.
Overall, this gun handled exceptionally well and didn’t feel like a compact .45. I shot a total of 200 rounds through it for evaluation, 100 of each brand. Including the 300 rounds that I fired prior to the test, there have been a total of 500 rounds through it to date, without a misfire or failure to eject. I’m impressed! The rough grip surface helps keep the gun from slipping when fired, although after 200 rounds I could feel a small amount of abrasion on my palm near my thumb from the repeated recoil. I have yet to purchase a holster for the Shield, so I can’t speak to how it feels while carrying. I am concerned that the aggressive texture on the grip might rub against my skin unless the holster has a sweat guard that would prevent it from touching. (Another option would be to wear a cami tucked between the gun and my skin.)
For anyone who’s looking to pick up a .45-caliber for concealed carry, I’d recommend trying the Shield. I think this is a great option for ladies, as the recoil is like that of a 9mm. I enjoy taking it to the range to practice, instead of merely tolerating it—I might just become a full-time southpaw!