S&W M&P Shield .45 ACP, by Pat Cascio

I know what the stats say that were put out by the FBI that the 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP loaded with a good JHP round are all about the same when it comes to stopping power. However, in their testing, they have no way of determining just how fast a bad guy goes down. Yes, there are results from the street from actual shootings; however, no one is there with a stop watch to time these events. I’ve been a fan of the .45ACP round for just about all my life, and I’m convinced in my own mind that the bad guys go down faster with the .45ACP compared to the 9mm or the .40 S&W! Of course, I have no way of proving this, other than to look at the very long history of the .45ACP round and the many shooting with the grand old 1911 handgun.

The FBI jumped on the .40 S&W bandwagon, after a shoot-out in Miami, FL where the bad guys just weren’t dying fast enough. In the end, it really wasn’t the 9mm itself at that time. Instead, it was the bullet that the FBI was using– the old Winchester Silvertip JHP. It simply expanded– opened up too fast– and didn’t penetrate deeply enough to do the damage that was needed to stop the bad guys fast enough. So, the Bureau dumped the 9mm and adopted the then new .40 S&W round. Now, the FBI has gone full-circle, and they are once again issuing 9mm handguns. However, my understanding is that they are issuing the heavier 147-gr subsonic JHP bullet, which moves slower and penetrates deeper.

Which brings us to the .45 ACP, which is moving slow. Even some of the +P hotter JHP loads are moving slow compared to a hot-stepping 9mm JHP or a .40 S&W. Penetration is key to stopping a threat, whether an animal or a person. Very simply put, if a bullet doesn’t penetrate deep enough to hit the vital organs, it can take a long, long time for enough blood loss to take effect before the threat goes down. Seconds count; it’s real simple, isn’t it? The .45 ACP is a big bullet moving slow,and it penetrates deeply, even if a JHP bullet doesn’t actually fully open-up (mushroom) when hitting the human body.

So, all this still makes a believer out of me that the .45 ACP puts down a threat a little faster than smaller, faster-moving bullets. That’s just my take on it, and I’ve studied this for a lot of years, and this is the conclusion I’ve drawn. Now, with that said, I can still be caught carrying a 9mm handgun of some kind more often than some other calibers as my daily carry piece. Since I’m not in the military or in law enforcement any longer, I don’t necessarily see that I might be facing some of the threats I did back in the day. I don’t expect to go after an armed robber. My daily goal is self defense, not going on the offensives if I can avoid it. Still, I carry a high-cap 9mm with at least one spare magazine, just in case.

I love the 1911 handgun, chambered in .45ACP; however, even the light-weight 1911s are more (weight) that I care to pack on my hip all day long in my Golden Years. Yes, I’ve tried some of the “Officers” sized 1911s with an aluminum frame, and many just don’t give me the 100% reliability I expect in a gun used for self defense. I’ve only had a couple sub-compact 1911s that were 100% reliable over the years, and I regret selling or trading them. There’s just “something” about the sub-compact 1911s that makes them a little less reliable than their bigger brothers– the Commander and the Government models. I have a Kahr CW45 that has been 100% reliable right out of the box. No break-in period was needed, and I’ve fired more than 1,000 rounds through it over the years. So, it’s a great little gun for everyday carry, if you ask me. On the other hand, I have a Kahr CW9 9mm that required more than 200 rounds to break it in.

So, I’m pleased when I can find a sub-compact .45 ACP handgun that is reliable out of the box and will feed any manner of bullet configuration, including standard velocity ammo as well as low-recoil, and even +P ammo, all in a small package that I can carry around on a daily basis. Enter the S&W M&P Shield .45ACP that came out not very long ago.

Some stats on this neat little everyday carry gun are in order.This is the latest addition to the Shield line-up, and S&W has already sold more than a million Shields since they came out a little over a year or so back;they are very hot-selling guns. I’ve owned them in 9mm and .40 S&W and didn’t care for the .40 S&W at all. There was too much muzzle flip in the little gun. The 9mm is a great little gun, so I was excited when I read about the Shield in .45 ACP.

When I spied the Shield at my local gun shop (and it took some looking to pick it out from the 9mm and .40 models), I was shocked at how small it was. It is only slightly, every so slightly, bigger than the 9mm and .40 S&W guns. I had to do a double-take to make sure the gun was actually chambered in .45 ACP. The Shield line-up are striker fired, and some come with a manual safety, some don’t . My sample has the safety, which I don’t use when carrying the gun. The gun comes with two magazines– one is flush-fitting and holds six rounds, and the other extends below the grip and holds seven rounds. Both magazines are marked 6 +1. The reason the 7-rd mag holds one more round is because of the magazine base; it allows that extra round to fit in the mag without actually extending the magazine all that far below the grip of the gun.

Barrel length of the .45 ACP Shield is 3.3 inches, which is about as short as you can go without giving up any more velocity and reliability than needed. We have the three white dot sights– one white dot on the front sight and two on the rear Novak-style rear sight. The sights are very fast to pick up once the gun is brought to eye level. Overall length of the gun is a mere 6.45 inches, and the width is only 0.99 inches; we are talking thin! The slide is stainless steel, coated with something S&W calls Armonite, which is black and very durable. The frame is black polymer, and S&W put some aggressive stippling on the grip so you have a very sure hold on the gun. This is different than the texturing found on the 9mm and .40 S&W Shield versions, and I love the feel. The gun isn’t gonna slip out of my hands under any weather conditions.

The little .45 ACP Shield weighs a mere 20 oz empty, so it is a lightweight to be sure, and the trigger is hinged. You must have a sure trigger finger placement on the trigger in order to fully pull back on it to fire the gun. The trigger pull is right at 5.5 lbs on my sample, and it is a much nicer trigger pull compared to the 9mm and .40 S&W guns I’ve owned. After a little bit of slack is taken-up, the trigger pull is fairly crisp, all things considered. And, it is considered a double-action only trigger pull.

During my testing, I fired more than 300 rounds through this little gun over several shooting sessions. The gun never once failed to chamber, fire, or eject any rounds, and I had a good selection of ammo to test in the gun. I will say that the +P loads were a real bear with lots of muzzle flip, and I would restrict my shooting with +P loads. The 230-gr FMJ standard velocity ammo was also a lot of “fun” to shoot. It lets you know you have something there. The one complaint I have is that, when the slide is locked open on an empty magazine, you can not release the slide by pressing down on the slide stop/release. It just isn’t going to happen. It must be a very stout magazine spring, and they are stout because it takes a little effort to load the magazines. This isn’t a real problem for me, because when I do a reload, I insert a fresh magazine and draw the slide back and release it; I don’t use the slide stop/release. However, many people prefer to press down on the slide stop/release to send the slide forward. If you are one of these folks, be advised that you can’t do it on the .45 ACP Shield.

The .45 ACP Shield is one of those little guns that you carry a lot and shoot a little; it can be hard on the hand when shooting full-power loads, and it is a wake-up call when shooting any +P loads. From Double Tap Ammunition I had their 160-gr Barnes TAC XP all-copper hollow point, low recoil load, 200-gr Bonded Defense, and their 230-gr Bonded Defense loads. From Buffalo Bore I had their 160-gr Barnes TAC XP all-copper hollow point low recoil load, 255-gr Gr Hard Cast FN Outdoorsman +P, 230-gr FMJ FN +P, 200-gr JHP +P and their 160-gr Barnes TAC XP all-copper hollow point +P. From Black Hills Ammunition www.black-hills.com there was their 200-gr Match Semi-Wadcutter, 230-gr FMJ, 185-gr JHP, 230-gr JHP, 230-gr JHP +P, and their 185-gr Barnes all-copper hollow point +P, so there was a great sampling of .45 ACP ammo to test in the Shield.

My accuracy testing was done at 20 yards this time. For shorter barreled guns, I usually do it at 15 yards; for full-sized handguns, I take it out to 25 yards. As mentioned early on, there were zero malfunctions of any type, which is the good news. However, with the standard velocity and +P loads, the little M&P Shield .45 ACP was punishing. You don’t want to fire these loads all day long with a lot of muzzle flip, and it is slow to get back on the sights for follow-up shots. The most punishing load, in my opinion, in the recoil department was the Buffalo Bore 200-gr JHP +P round. I was sure it was going to be their 255-gr Hard Cast FN Outdoorsman load, but I was wrong. The 230-gr JHP +P loads were an eye-opener, too. The Barnes TAC XP loads– the low-recoil loads from Buffalo Bore and Double Tap– were a joy to shoot. Either one would be my first choice for everyday carry.

There is always a winner and a loser when it comes to accuracy, and the Black Hills 200-gr Match load was the clear winner. The groups were 2½ inches, if I did my part. However, none of the other loads exceeded 3½ inches, and most were right around 3 inches, if I did my part all the time. The Barnes TAC XP loads, from all three makers, were right there around 3-inches, and that is plenty good enough for self defense from a 3.3-inch barreled handgun. Full retail on the little Shield .45 ACP is $479, and it can be found for about $50 less, if you shop around. That’s a great deal, if you ask me, if you want a small .45 ACP handgun for everyday carry. I understand that the Performance Center will be coming out with a version with a ported barrel and slide, and fiber optic sights, as well as a night sight version. However, I just couldn’t wait for those to come out. I’m more than a little pleased with the standard M&P Shield .45 ACP I picked up. Now, the waiting game. S&W has not released any spare mags for this model. They said in about six weeks. Well, I’ve been checking, and it has now been six weeks since I picked up this little gem. I don’t understand why gun makers come out with a new gun model but don’t have any extra magazines available at the same time.

Be sure to check out this little .45 ACP at your local dealer. You could do a whole lot worse for a sub-compact .45ACP for self-defense work.

– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio