AAR: M&P40 Project

This is a new one for me–I’m talking about the results of a project gun rather than the planning phase. So I’ll try to give you planning bits too, but they’ll almost certainly be hindsight tinted. I’ll also make this partially a review, but that’ll be hard to do because I do love to tinker, and this is hardly a stock pistol anymore.

I picked up a Smith & Wesson M&P40 for a few reasons. I had given them a shoot over at the Gander Mountain Expo, and rather enjoyed the experience. Plus, I wanted to try something a little different from the usual “Glock 9mm” that I had tended to shoot up to that point. I debated the M&P in 9mm, but those had some issues in the not too distant past. The M&P was designed first for the .40 S&W round though, and those hadn’t had problems. Plus, I always wanted to give the .40 S&W round a try, and what better platform to do it with?

The .40 S&W round is an interesting one. It occupies an intermediate position between 9mm and .45 ACP. You get more rounds in the mag than you would with a .45, but you give up a couple to a 9mm pistol. It can still fit in a 9mm frame though, so those of you with small hands won’t gripe as much about fit. Oh, and the .40 S&W is a hot round. The .40 S&W grew out of the 1980s dissatisfaction with .38s and 9mms from the FBI. Initially, the FBI went with the 10mm auto, but this required the same sort of big frame as a .45, and was a really hot round. Female shooters and the recoil averse weren’t very happy, so the FBI had ammo makers make them a lighter loaded 10mm auto. From there, someone realized they could shorten the case somewhat and fit it in the same frame as a 9mm, and thus the .40 was born. It’s a super popular round for law enforcement. Modern ballistics being what they are, 9mm hollow points have caught up, and now (joy of joys) you can get good hollow points in all major calibers that pass the FBI gelatin tests. 9mm has a small advantage in magazine capacity, and is a bit cheaper. But there’s nothing wrong with .40; it certainly won’t get smaller when it hits something. It maintains it’s energy edge, and some have called it ‘snappy’ or ‘hard recoiling’.

When Smith & Wesson decided to challenge Glock properly in the polymer-framed striker-fired pistol market, the resurrected one of their most storied brands: M&P. The original Military and Police, also known as the Model 10, was an extremely popular service revolver for police officers and various militaries, as well as being a popular pistol in the civilian market. It’s the most popular centerfire revolver of the 20th century, with some six million being made. There are a number of things to like about the current-production M&Ps from design and user standpoints, and I also have a couple gripes.

First, the good stuff. The M&P is wonderfully comfortable in the hand. The interchangeable backstraps are the most comfortable that I have played around with1, and they do a really good job of accommodating various hand sizes. The backstraps change both length and width of the grip, which is super helpful. The backstraps are held in place by a handy pin/tool thingy that is inserted into the bottom, behind the magwell. We’ll get to this later, but it’s pretty handy to always have a gunsmith manipulation tool with your pistol. The slide stop is ambidextrous, and it’s well positioned to be far enough back to be easily reached with your strong hand thumb, but not so far back that you might be tempted to rest your thumb on it and prevent the slide from locking back on an empty mag. It’s also not so far forward that you might rest your support hand thumb on it and do the same thing. Sizewize, it’s big enough to be easy to manipulate, but small enough that you don’t hit it accidentally. It’s a really solid design. I’ve also noticed that it drops the slide automatically if I insert a full magazine with gusto. I’m not sure if this is a design feature, but I like it.

There are a whole bunch of minor things that I like too about the M&P. The slide cocking serrations are really good. They’re sort of a fish-scale design, and they’re quite grippy. I really like grippy. Plus, they look cool. Also, in the minor details that I like column is the dovetailed front sight. I much prefer front sight dovetails to the stake/screw method, especially when you put nice aftermarket sights on your pistol. Dovetails are the way to go. I also rather like the rotating takedown lever much more than the pull tabs of Glocks or HKs. It’s a really little thing, but hush, I still like it. One of the niftier little things is a small internal lever (that you can trip with that tool in the back of the grip) which is used to release the sear for disassembly so you don’t have to pull the trigger. Since plenty of accidental discharges occur on the disassembly phase from complacency, I sort of like this feature. Even though I tend to disassemble my M&Ps with a trigger press, because I’m lazy.

Safetywise, I got my M&P just like my Glocks: No external safety. Since they’re going for the law enforcement market though, Smith and Wesson is nice enough to let you choose what safeties you want. If you’re like me, and don’t like external safeties, you don’t have to get them. If you’re like Fishbreath, you can get them on your M&P, and they’re even frame mounted as God and John Moses Browning intended. If you’re mental, or an overly-paranoid police department, you can also opt for a magazine disconnect safety in addition to the external safety (or lack thereof). Fishbreath and I do agree (you’re shocked, I know) that magazine disconnects are stupid.

So the M&P feels good in the hand, and has a bunch of nifty features. What don’t I like? Well, two things. One is minor: the mag catch. Or more precisely, the bit of plastic behind the mag catch. It makes me reach a little more to get to it, and makes pressing it a little uncomfortable. It’s a really minor gripe, I know, but it bothers me. I’ve ordered up an extended mag release, and that’ll probably fix it. More troublesome is the trigger: it’s not very good. The stock trigger has a rather mushy takeup, a really hard wall to release the sear, and then a soft, weak reset. UGH. While I could send it off to a gunsmith, it’s much easier to buy an Apex trigger kit and put it in yourself. The end result is a trigger with more pretravel than a Glock, but a very respectable reset and a somewhat less obnoxiously wall-like break. The Glock trigger is still a trifle better, but that might be just because my test glock at hand has lots of rounds through it, polishing everything up inside the slow and fun way. Without the Apex kit, the M&P trigger is annoying. With it, it’s a pretty good polymer service pistol trigger. It’s nowhere near as good as my 1911, but it was a whole lot cheaper too. It does bother me that S&W can’t make their triggers suck less though, but it’s a simple fix away.

I should also point out a significant advantage of the M&P (and to an even greater extent: Glock): ubiquity. These pistols are everywhere. Finding parts, accessories, or a factory certified armorer is easy. Magazines are cheap. And new sights come to you first. Finding holsters is easy. It lets you pick what you want to experiment with, and run the gun the way you want to, rather than the way that you can find accessories to accommodate you.

So let’s go over the pistol. I’ve already mentioned that I put an Apex trigger kit in. Specifically, it’s the duty/carry kit. There’s also a competition kit available if you want a lighter trigger. Fringe benefit of installing this myself is that it really helped me get a good understanding how this pistol (and other, similar striker-fired pistols) work. It wasn’t a very hard install. I also am going to try out an extended mag release, see how that goes. I also sent the slide out for milling to install an RMR. Why RMR? Because it’s tough. It’s built right. The adjustment dials are in good places, and battery life is excellent. I had the milling done by Mark Housel of L&M precision, and he did a really great job. I also have suppressor-height Ameriglo iron sights mounted as backups. These are there in case the battery dies at a bad time, or Murphy and his law find a way to make a bother of themselves. They also help find the dot if my presentation isn’t good.

I’ve already discussed the mini red dot academically; now I’ll talk about what I’ve found. The red dot will make any issues in your draw and presentation painfully obvious. It’ll also wobble a bit, picking up on all those tiny little twitches. And, it slows you down initially, because you’ll often find yourself wondering, “where the hell did that stupid little dot go?” But after some practice, I found that it made me faster. It made me more accurate. It helps in dry fire, because it makes errors in your trigger press a lot harder to ignore and ‘cheat’ through. Oh, and if that’s not enough of an endorsement, I sent another slide to Mark to work his magic on.

1. I’ve heard HK and Walther’s newer designs are as comfortable as the M&P, if not more so, but I don’t have serious time on either, so I could not possibly comment. A PPQ of some flavor is probably the next pistol I get though, judging by all the rave reviews its trigger gets. So stay tuned.

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  1. Pingback: On the .40 S&W - The Soapbox

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