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There Just Might Be A Santa Claus After All

by Jim Wilson   |  January 3rd, 2011 0

Imagine getting a phone call telling you that you are to go to the famous Gunsite Training Center in northern Arizona and spend a week shooting someone else’s guns and ammunition. Imagine, also, that a whole bunch of your friends and colleagues will also be there, with all sorts of time set aside for visiting and storytelling. While my qualifications for such an assignment may come into question, my enthusiasm was surely up to the task. Ya think there just might really be a Santa Claus after all?


Smith & Wesson used the opportunity to bring out its M&P 9mm pistol and M&P15 carbine. Black Hills furnished the ammunition, and Blade-Tech provided the Kydex holsters and magazine carriers. Aimpoint provided red-dot sights for the carbines, SureFire brought the lights, and Brownells had the carbine magazines and cleaning equipment.

Wayne Novak was also present; his good combat sights are featured on the M&P pistols and he is a veteran shooter. The rest of us were there with instructions to shoot and use the equipment and to offer criticisms and suggestions for new products.

In order to test these various items under actual conditions, the Gunsite staff put us through various shooting drills. We worked on the speed reload and the tactical reload. We shot far; we shot close. In a night shoot we worked with a mounted light on the carbine and both mounted and handheld lights with the pistol. We also shot with the Novak tritium night sights used on the M&P pistol.

Towards the end of the week those nefarious folks that Gunsite calls range officers even set us up with a man-against-man shoot-off using steel plates. This would have been fine except that Tim Wegner, the Blade-Tech honcho, brought in Bobby McGee, his professional shooter. Mr. McGee promptly cleaned our clocks. Actually, it was a real pleasure to see a young man of Bobby’s stature so involved in the shooting sports. His manners, attitude, and skills are the kind of stuff that American shooting sports should always emulate.

However, I got the most fun out of shooting against the Gunsite robot. They’ve got this little robot with a silhouette target mounted on it and a knife dangling where its right hand ought to be. They can move it in any direction on the range, and it really picks up speed when it’s coming right at you swinging the knife. One of the range officers pointed out to me that I really should have yelled “halt” first and then started shooting. Other than that slight oversight, I think the robot learned not to bring a knife to a gunfight.

S&W’s M&P is an interesting pistol to shoot. It is a 24-ounce striker-fired 9mm with a 4.25-inch barrel. The magazine capacity is 17 rounds, and as I mentioned, the pistol is issued with the Novak fixed combat sights. It is fitted with a magazine-disconnect safety for civilian use, while the feature is not installed on police and military versions.

The most interesting, and useful, feature of the M&P pistol is that it has an interchangeable backstrap and comes with small, medium, and large backstraps to better fit the individual shooter’s hand. I chose the small backstrap and found that it gave me a very positive, wraparound grip that aided quick shooting.


Smith & Wesson M&P

Smith & Wesson has obviously spent a lot of time in the design of this new pistol. It points very naturally, a characteristic that became quite obvious during the night-firing drills. And one of the reasons for this is that its grip-to-slide angle closely resembles that of the good 1911 pistol.

During the week, while firing several hundred rounds of Black Hills 9mm ammo, I purposely did not clean the pistol. At all. I mean, I didn’t even put oil on the slide. I tried my best to provide the M&P pistol with every opportunity to malfunction. That it did not malfunction a single time is a credit to the serious thought that Smith & Wesson has put into the pistol’s design.

The particular M&P carbine that we fired at Gunsite was the M&P15A. This carbine has a flat-topped receiver with an adjustable, folding battle sight on the rear. It features a 16-inch barrel and has a six-position telescoping buttstock. Upper and lower receivers are manufactured from 7075 T6 aluminum, and the barrel is crafted from 4140 steel. The carbine’s overall length is 35 inches, and it weighs 6.5 pounds empty.

Shooting the 55-grain .223 Black Hills FMJ load, the M&P carbine did very well. It was a very handy gun for close, fast work, such as two shots in one second from the 25-yard line. But it also performed very well out to 200 yards, the maximum range at which we tested the carbines. Since I shoot from my left shoulder, I found the standard safety abit worrisome to engage; however, Smith & Wesson has designed the carbine so that a left-handed safety can be quickly installed. Even though I chose not to clean the M&P15A carbine, either, it functioned flawlessly throughout the week.

The latest addition to Smith & Wesson’s M&P family is the Compact pistol. It will be available in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .357 SIG. The pistol that I examined was in 9mm, and it weighed 21.7 ounces and had a 3.5-inch barrel, a 10-shot magazine, and Novak LoMount Carry sights (tritium inserts are optional). The pistol will be shipped with two magazines; one fits flush with the bottom of the grip, and the other has an extension to accommodate the shooter’s little finger. Once production guns become available, Shooting Times will conduct a thorough gun review and report the results.

After spending a week at Gunsite with the Smith & Wesson M&P pistol and carbine, it became apparent that these are well-designed guns. For my own use I would prefer the standard stock on the carbine instead of the telescoping stock so that I could get a better cheekweld. That can easily be fixed. And, as you might imagine, I pointed out to the Smith & Wesson folks that I would really like to see a version of the M&P pistol in .45 ACP. In the fullness of time, I expect that too will be fixed.

I compliment Smith & Wesson and Gunsite for putting together this week of shooting. It was informative to spend a whole week putting rounds downrange through the test guns. It was also informative to have interacted with other gun writers, sharing critiques and ideas on these particular products. This opportunity to share can only end up by putting better guns and equipment into the hands of shooters. And that should always be the primary goal.

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