Monday, March 28, 2016

Review: Smith and Wesson Performance Center Shield 9mm

At the time I ordered my M&P Performance Center Shield in 9mm, it was still a new hot item and a little hard to find. My local store thought it would be a three-to-six week wait but luckily they received one in six days but it would be five more before I could actually shoot it. At least that gave me ample time to clean it.

I did a lot of research before buying the Shield. I have been impressed with my full-sized M&P 9, and my M&P AR15 has turned into a really fun AR now that I went to work on the trigger. The original Shield has been a huge hit, especially in 9mm. Heck, my buddy Brian even got one for Christmas!

My research lead me to the Glock 43 and the M&P Shield. The more YouTube videos that I watched and articles that I read, the more the Shield appeared the winner. Right as I was about to plop down the money, the PC Shield came out. It was an appealing package: ported barrel and slide, Performance Center trigger and HI-VIZ Fiber Optic Sights. 

Then the questions came. Do I really want a ported barrel in an EDC pistol? Do I even like the HI-VIZ Sights? At my local store the PC version was only a $50 bump in price so I justified that I’d put more than that in an improved trigger if I bought a standard Shield. Another thought hit me, I could always get a non-ported barrel if I had the inclination. I visited the store, played with both the standard and the PC (in .40 S&W), waffled like this for about a week then I made up my mind and pre-paid for the PC version. The tigger is what did it. Man, the PC Shield has a perfect out-of-the-box trigger for a CCW. It’s not too light, has acceptable take up, has a definitive wall, breaks crisply at 5 lbs. 2 oz. and has a nice tactile reset snap (something my full-sized M&P sorely lacks). 

Since I had a few days before I could make it to the range used the time to make some modifications to the pistol. Normally, I like to shoot it as is a few times before “messing” with it but I new gun needs to be immediately shot or messed with. 

First, I ordered a holster. Instead of my customary Crossbreed, this time I went with a Tactical Justice two-tone Kydex. I like the quality of their products and their price point. 

Next, I bought a second 7-round magazine and replaced the factory mag springs on the two 7-rounders with MagGuts springs giving them an 8-round capacity. I'm very impressed with how the MagGuts system works. I was instantly able to get eight rounds into the seven round magazines. While I had the magazines apart I added NDZ, cast aluminum pinky extensions to both 7-rounders. I really like the look and quality of the over-priced mag extensions. I mean $32 for two base plates? Come on, man. Supply and demand though and I bought them. Anyway, as you can see in the photo at the bottom, unlike the Pearce extensions that have a more vertical extension with a slight bend, the NDZ have a more minimal footprint but a more pronounced forward bend. For my smallish hand, this makes for a snug fit that cradles my fingers perfectly. I love it. 

Back to the MagGus, there is a serious side effect that I feel compelled to mention. The MagGuts system comes with a thin aluminum replacement spring plate that you are supposed to use in place of the stock S&W plates. On the first trip to the range as I was loading the magazines using my MagLula, the NDZ extension slipped off. If you look at the picture closely, you'll notice that the replacement spring plate is bent. It turns out that it bends very easily and quickly stops securely holding the base plate in place. I tired bending them back but they appear to be too flimsy to work long-term. I just replaced the bent plates with the original plastic plates and the spring system continued to work as advertised. I emailed MagGuts and got a quick reply saying that they "strived to deliver the best quality products" and committed to "investigating the issue." Who knows if they will but I let them know of the issue. 

As for not putting MagGuts into the 8-round mag and make it hold nine? I don’t like the 8-round mag. Actually, I like the magazine but I don’t like the loose-fitting collar at the bottom that acts as a pinky rest. It looks goofy and it’s moves around too easily. To me, this is only one of two ill-conceived ideas engineered into the shield platform. 

Next, I broke out the skateboard tape. I have a strip that I bought at Ace Hardware that really holds but isn’t so rough that it makes your hand bleed after 100 rounds. As you can see, I traced out a piece for the front strap that mirrors the stock stippling the only put a single, thin strip down the back strap. I tried covering the oval stippling on the back and sides but it was way too much skateboard tape so I went minimal. I also put a tiny piece on the front of the NDZ extension as the smooth aluminum offers no grip. 

Then Sunday came and Doug and I went to the range. We set up our targets and began shooting. For comparison we had a Taurus TP709 Slim (my former favorite gun and EDC) and Doug’s LC9. To jump right to it, after shooting over 250 rounds through all three guns Doug said, “I think that Shield is the best shooting compact nine I have ever shot.” As for me, I completely agreed with him. For a single-stack subcompact, this thing is amazing. 

I am notorious for meticulously polishing and smoothing triggers. For those that need more than smoothing, like my Glock 19 or Ruger SR9 I'll install Ghost Trigger Connectors or even replacement triggers. The trigger on my PC Shield needed nothing. Nothing but rounds at the range that is. It was perfect out of the box. Unlike M&P triggers from that past, Smith and Wesson nailed it this time. 

From there, we both went through dozens of magazines trying to viscerally quantify the barrel porting. Totally independently, we both felt that the ported Shield has 20% less muzzle flip, than the other two 9's that we had with us. Overall, the porting has a minimal effect. 

Next, I looked a little deeper into the porting issue. There is a lot of talk about shooting in a close quarters or emergency situation with the pistol rapidly presented and discharged from the pectoral position. We’ll as you can see in the video, I tried it…six times. I discovered that you do indeed feel the warm gasses being blown upward along with some brief, small stings, very similar to the little stings that you feel on your wrist when holding a sparkler on the 4th of July but it was not intolerable nor terribly unpleasant. In an emergency situation I would not have safety glasses on so it might effect my eyes more than the test but I cannot imagine it being any worse than shooting a revolver from the same position. As you can see in the video, I did hold the pistol so the slide ever so lightly hit me in the chest when I pulled the trigger and the gun failed to feed. That too was a good lesson in self-defense.

The sights are a disappointment. In bright sunlight they are amazing but in less than ideal conditions the sights are dim. In low light the front sight is very hard to see. Even horrible white three dot sights are better in wider variety of conditions. I am going to replace them with a big dot or two dot system at some point. 

Carrying the gun is a genuine joy. The thinness and overall size means it’s not only comfortable but I never find it obtrusive or feel like it gets in the way, no matter how I carry it–appendix or kidney. 

The Smith and Wesson Performance Center Shield is a fantastic firearm. It’s fun to shoot, it’s comfortable to carry, it has a great trigger and comes in a very well designed and well constructed package. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Crossbreed's Flawed Bedside Backup

The bump in the night.
It's unlikely and I hope it doesn't happen, but it could. 
If it does, what's your plan? Do you even have a plan? 

I have a plan and it starts with my Crossbreed Bedside Backup. I had been looking at the Backup online but when I was up in Nashville for the NRA Annual Conference last year I stopped by the Crossbreed booth, checked it out in person and ordered a kit with kydex molded for a Taurus Judge Polymer Public Defender right on the spot.

It promptly arrived and I installed it but that's where I discovered it's horrible flaws. 

My initial review is that the Bedside Backup is a great idea that's very poorly executed but very easy to correct by the end user. What happened is that once I had it installed, I did what most normal people would do, I unloaded my Judge and went through a few "what if" drills to determine the perfect placement of the paddle and to figure out how the Ohai Kydex holster should be angled. The first attempt at a rapid "roll off the bed draw" was disastrous. When I pulled on the Hogue grip as I was rolling out of bed, the entire Bedside Backup slid out from between the mattress and boxspring and the two pieces separated–Taurus Judge still securely in the Kydex holster. Bad. Very bad! 

I chalked this first attempt at possible user error and went at it again. This time I was more deliberate in my draw and I stayed laying on my belly on the bed and did not slide onto the floor. This was a little better as the Bedside Backup only shifted a little but stayed wedged. Better but still not good.

If something went bump in the night, my plan is to draw, slide off of the bed, pull my wife down with me and use the mattress as a barrier between the master bedroom door and us. If things were to get real bad, the mattress would be a great shooting platform. In my night stand drawer a tray of quick load .410 shot shells in 000 buck and a tray of quick load Winchester Supreme Elite PDX .45 Long Colt. But, if the Bedside Backup didn't stay put, the fight could be with the holster and no the home invaders!

I emailed Crossbreed and got a quick replay. They admitted that they were looking into some design improvements, including the possibility of a big rubber band that kept the Backup in place. Great, but I needed a solution now. So, I went shopping. I ended up buying some aggressive, adhesive skateboard tape and some double-sided padded tape.
As you can see in the images, I put the double-sided tape under the flanges and the skateboard tape on BOTH sides of the paddle. The padded tape is just as important as the skateboard tape because of the deign of the Backup, when making the bed, the paddle can slide out just a bit and the face plate can fall off. In the photo at the top of this blog, you can see some of the dings in the wood from this happening.

Once both were installed the Bedside Backup functioned like a well-designed piece of hardware. Now, the entire device stays put during rapid draw drills from any position using any amount of force. As of this writing, the Bedside Backup is a over-priced $74 piece of Kydex, leather and Velcro that I happily bought. I added about $2 worth of stuff to make their good idea, a good idea that actually worked as it should.

Let me be clear, I believe in Crossbreed. In addition to the Backup, I own a SuperTuck, a MiniTuck and just bought my wife's Dad a Freedom Carry for his Ruger SR9c (with CT Laserguard) that we plan on giving him as a Father's Day present and I will probably buy a  Freedom Carry for myself if I like his. I'm a fan! But, I'm very disappointed that a company that puts so much thought, energy and engineering into nearly perfect products allows the Bedside Backup to be shipped in such a dangerous form. Yes, dangerous! If I had not run some practice drills, I may have not discovered how ineffective and sloppy the product performed. It would have been dangerous had that unlikely bump in the night come and I found myself fumbling with my Bedside Backup at the worst of times.

For a couple bucks (that's retail for me, cheaper for them) Crossbreed could make the Backup just like all of their other products, perfect.

My recommendation to you is to BUY THE BEDSIDE BACKUP but put the time and dollars into making it work right.

My recommendation to Crossbreed is to FIX THE BEDSIDE BACKUP right now! I will be up in Louisville for the 2016 NRA Annual Conference and I hope to see the new and improved $76 Bedside Backup. I will update this post immediately.

Good luck and sleep well.