Pat Cascio’s Product Review: S&W 9mm Shield Performance Center Model

Right off the bat, I’ll admit my bias against Smith & Wesson– the company, not the guns. I used to be a huge fan of their firearms for a lot of years, but their warranty service is lacking. It’s something to keep in mind when purchasing one of their firearms. However, S&W continues to produce some outstanding firearms these days.

For several years, as a private investigator back in Chicago, IL, I packed a S&W Model 586 with a 4” Bbl on a daily basis. It was a comforting (not comfortable) handgun to carry all day long. When I was in the office, my 586 resided in my briefcase next to my desk. The 586 is built on the “L” frame, instead of the smaller “K” frame. While there isn’t anything wrong with the “K” frames, they just weren’t built to handle a steady diet of .357 Magnum loads. Thus, the “L” came along. It was also in competition with the Colt Python, but that’s another story.

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I admit to carrying a 9mm handgun more than anything else these days, although I prefer something more like a 1911 in .45ACP, and if I’m knowingly going into harm’s way I’ll strap on a 1911. Even when going too far from home, I’ll choose a 1911 in .45ACP. However, for most of my daily needs, some kind of 9mm stoked with +P or +P+ JHP ammo and a spare mag will take care of most threats. While FBI stats say there is very little difference in “stopping power” between the 9mm, .40 S&W, and the .45ACP with JHP loads, I still believe that the .45ACP will stop an attack faster, but that’s just me!

When Smith & Wesson came out with the 9mm and .40 S&W compact Shield handguns, I jumped on getting one in .40 S&W. It was not my smartest move. The .40 S&W in the light-weight compact Shield really bucked with lots of recoil, making it hard to get back on-target for a fast follow-up shot. Plus, the trigger pull on the Shield was lacking in some respects. In short order, I traded that .40 S&W Shield for something else. One of my regular UPS drivers carries a Shield when he isn’t working, and I’ve had him out shooting several times with it. He misses a lot with it. The recoil scares him, although he won’t admit it.

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The local gun shop I haunt got in the new and improved M&P Shield in 9mm, and this one has been run through the S&W Performance Center where they do custom work on their firearms. A quick run down on the PC model is in order. As mentioned, this one is in 9mm, but they also offer it in .40 S&W, and it has a ported barrel– one port on each side, which does help keep the muzzle down for faster follow-up shots. The slide is also ported, but it has three ports (cuts). One is in-line with the ports in the barrel, and the other two are just to lighten the weight of the slide. The gun comes with two mags; one is seven rounds, and the other is eight rounds and is extended.

The PC Shield is striker-fired, as are so many other polymer framed handguns. It has a 3.1-inch barrel and weighs just 18.2 ounces. Front and rear sights are Hi-Viz fiber optic. The front sight has a green fiber optic rod, and the rear sight has two red fiber optic rods– one on either side of the sight opening, which is very, very fast to pick up.

The frame, as mentioned, is polymer, and it has a nice texturing to the grip area for a sure hold on the gun. The slide is stainless steel, however, it has a Melonite black coating on it, for a subdued look. The overall length of the Shield is 6.1 inches and height is 4.6 inchs, with the 7-rd mag. Width is a mere .95 inches, so this is a neat, compact self-defense sized handgun.

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On top of the outstanding Hi-Viz fiber optic sights, the Performance Center has improved on the trigger pull . I don’t know what they did, but the trigger pull is much nicer. It’s smoother than the trigger pull on the standard Shield. They should have this trigger pull on all the Shields, if you ask me. However, my understanding is that since the Shield came out a few years ago, S&W has sold about a million of these guns. Wow!

As I’ve gotten older and retired from any sort of law enforcement work, public or private, I don’t feel the need to carry a full-sized handgun as much as I used to. So, these days you can probably catch me carrying some kind of compact or subcompact handgun. More often than not it will be a Shield, Glock 26,or Springfield Armory XDs or XD Mod.2 compact. And, of course a spare mag for whatever gun I carry is mandatory. If headed towards a bigger city, I’ll strap on a 1911 in .45ACP, and more than likely it will be my Springfield Armory light-weight Range Officer Champion with a couple of spare mags.

Many people have asked me over the years, and I’ll repeat it here once again, as to what is the “best” gun to have to carry! That’s an easy one. The one you are carrying is the “best” one or you would be carrying something else, right? Life consists of compromises, and there is no one firearm that will do everything you ask of it. So, I balance out what my threat might be, and I arm myself accordingly. Then, I hope I made the right choice that day. If I didn’t, then I make do. Like the U.S. Marines say, “improvise, adapt, overcome…” Use the tools you have at hand, and make the best of the situation, and remember to PRAY!

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As to the two magazines that comes with each gun, the 7-rd mag just barely allows half of my pinky finger to hold onto the grip area. So I put an extended pinky catcher mag floor plate on the 7-rd mag from Pearce Grip, and it made all the difference in the world. The gun felt better in the hand, and I shot better with it. The 8-rd mags, well, that one is longer, so it fit the hand better. I carry the 8-rd mag as my spare, when I carry the PC Shield.

I tried a number of different holsters for the little 9mm PC Shield and settled on a belt slide holster from Blackhawk Products. It keeps the little gun nice and tight against my body, making the gun VERY concealable. The only drawback to this holster is that it is made out of ballistic nylon, and you can not re-holster the gun after drawing it without using two hands. When you have to use two hands, your eyes are also off the threat, which is not a good thing. So, I’m still looking for a different holster for this gun.

I had quite a selection of 9mm ammo to run through the PC Shield. From Black Hills Ammunition, I had their 115-gr JHP +P, 124-gr JHP +P, 115gr FMJ, 124-gr JHP, and their 115-gr EXP (Extra Power) hollow point. From Buffalo Bore, I had their 147-gr Hard Cast FN Outdoorsman +P load, 115-gr Barnes TAC XP all-copper hollow point +P+, 124-gr FMJ FN +P+ Penetrator round, 124-gr +P+, and their 115-gr JHP +P load. So, we had a good assortment of different types of ammo with different bullet configurations and power levels to test.

I had zero malfunctions of any type during my testing, and I’ve run more than 500 rounds through this little gun thus far. However, I will say that I would shy away from the +P+ load. The slide was really moving back and forth, and there is the potential that it could miss picking-up a round from the magazine. Then again, no gun maker warrants that their guns can shoot +P+ ammo.

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Even though this is a short-barreled 9mm, I did my accuracy testing at 25 yards, resting the gun over a sleeping bag over the hood of my pickup truck. Many of the groups were in the 4-inch range. A few were five inches, which is still fairly acceptable for the distance involved. I had a couple groups that were getting down there at 3 ½ inches, if I did my part. The clear winner was the Buffalo Bore 115-gr JHP +P load. However, right on the heels of this round was their 147-gr Hard Cast, FN Outdoorsman load, followed by the Black Hills 124-gr JHP load, which is always a winner in my book and an outstanding self-defense load.

Needless to say, the +P+ loads gave the most recoil, and as mentioned, the slide was really moving back and forth rapidly. I’m sure at some point, this little gun would choke on one of these rounds. Then again, there are many full-sized 9mm handguns that won’t function 100% of the time with +P+ loads, so act accordingly.

The Performance Center 9mm (and .40 S&W) Shield runs about a hundred bucks more than the standard Shield models do. The standard models run about $400 in my neck of the woods, with the PC models running $499! For my money, I’d spend the extra hundred bucks for the better sights, ported barrel, and much better trigger pull.

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There isn’t anything I didn’t like about the PC Shield, and I tried hardto find something to complain about, I mean really complain about. It is a nice size 9mm handgun for concealed carry on a daily basis, and stoked with some JHP ammo, standard velocity or +P, it will sure take care of any deadly threats that may come your way. I’d even feel comfortable carrying it into the woods, loaded with the Buffalo Bore Outdoorsman load that will penetrate the skull of a black bear.

So, if you’re in the market for a very concealable yet potent little 9mm for everyday carry, take a look at the S&W Performance Center Shield and pass on the standard model. The nicer trigger pull and Hi-Viz sights alone are worth the added expense. No wonder S&W has sold over a million of these little guns.

– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio

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