Friday, April 27, 2012

Fear of Commitment

S&W 9mm Shield
The S&W Shield is a new product that has generated quite a bit of excitement since its announcement at the 2012 NRA Show.  At first glance, this pistol appears to be the cats meow given it's diminutive size, 9mm and .40 caliber chamberings, light weight, good quality sights, and single stack magazine -- all features that are highly valued in the sub-compact market.

However, I've found a couple head scratchers -- I mean features -- that leave a dry taste in my mouth on this otherwise promising new pistol.  The low hanging fruit of criticism is the inclusion of a manual thumb safety.  This is a topic that's been beaten to death already, so I'll avoid boring you with another critique of this less than ideal feature.  The other feature that causes me some concern is the extended 8 round magazine and the polymer grip extension that slides over the body of the magazine.

The 9mm Shield comes with two magazines.  One 7 rounder and one 8 rounder.  The 7 round magazine fits flush with the bottom of the grip.  The 8 round magazine sticks out about 3/4" and includes a polymer sleeve that fits over the base of the magazine giving your pinky a little more purchase on the grip of the pistol.  I will admit, the Shield feels much better in my hand with the 8 round magazine inserted.

Grip extension sliding up on 8rnd mag
Grip extensions aren't a new idea, companies have been including grip extensions on magazines for some time -- the XD Compact and the PX4 Compact come to mind.  However there are two different kinds of extensions in common use and some work better than others.  The floor plate extension like that found on the HK P2000SK works better than the grip extension/sleeve of the S&W Shield and here's why I say that.

The sleeve of the Shield is held in place by friction.  The sleeve can slide up the body of the magazine with little effort.  If you were to carry one of these extended mags as a spare, it's possible that the polymer sleeve would move up the body of the magazine.  Should a reload be required, seating the spare magazine in the pistol becomes far more challenging.  If the sleeve isn't in its proper place, you must really whack the magazine to get it to seat and even then it's not guaranteed it will properly seat.

It's for this reason you must use the 8 round magazine in the gun if you plan on carrying a spare magazine.  However, carrying the 7 round magazine as your spare causes another problem.  Should you require a reload you've now altered the handling characteristics of your pistol by going from the full grip offered by the 8 round mag to the truncated grip of the 7 round mag which leaves your pinky dangling. 

S&W should have committed to a design and stuck with it.  The 9mm Shield should have either been a 7 round pistol or a 8 round pistol.  The use of the polymer sleeve is a compromise that's unnecessary in my view.  I would pick the magazine length that works best for you and only use that magazine in your pistol.  Since S&W dropped the ball with the friction fit of the polymer sleeve, if you choose to carry the pistol with the 8 round magazine as a spare I would super glue the sleeve to the magazine body or remove it to avoid problems.

*** UPDATE 4/28/2012

Today I took a few friends out to shoot the Shield.  Without commenting on the issues I see with the 8 round magazine and the sleeve I let them shoot the pistol as much as they wanted with the 7 and 8 round mags.  All shooters commented about the annoying tendency of the sleeve to walk up the magazine body causing issues with seating the magazine in the gun.

Unfortunately I only have one 8 round magazine to test at the moment, but given the design I have a hard time believing I'm the only one that has experienced this issue.

At this point I'm of the opinion that Shield should have been a 7 round pistol (9mm) and the 8 round magazine was a marketing fopaux.  The length of the 8 round magazine does make it feel better in the hand but it also makes the grip of the Shield longer than the grip of a Glock 19.  The length of the grip is the most important dimension when trying to shave inches from a pistol to reduce printing while concealed.  If I'm going to carry a gun that has a foot print larger than a Glock 19, I'll just carry the Glock 19 and have 15 rounds on tap vs. 8.

Fortunately the remedy to the 8 round magazine problem is simple - I'll leave my one and only 8 round magazine in a drawer and carry my Shield with its 7 round magazine.

1 comment:

  1. there IS another option, though, isn't there? you could leave the grip extension off the 8-rounder and use it as a back-up.

    I do this on my SR9c. I have the 17-round for a back up, but leave the sleeve/extender off when carrying. I practice that way, too.