Smith& Wesson recently asked the age-old question, “Revolver or semi-automatic
pistol?” The Springfield,
Mass. gunmaker’s catalog proffers newly refined versions of both styles of
off-duty/concealed carry handguns in their latest catalog. To seek the answer,
S&W gathered ammo from Federal, holsters from BLACKHAWK!, lasers from
Crimson Trace, and their own 640 Pro Series 357 revolver plus their new Shield
9mm pistol. Then they gathered shooters from sections of the firearms universe,
including law enforcement, and plunked them all together in the mountainous desert of Arizona
known as Gunsite Academy.
facility is beyond compare. Colonel Jeff Cooper’s legacy looms large at the
range he created in 1976. Cooper passed away in 2006, but Gunsite continues
under Buz Mills’ ownership and Ed Head’s operational management of the 2,000-acre
ranges can tackle any type of firearms training, from pocket pistols to sniper
rifles and shotguns. Shoot houses, vehicles, and even an airliner fuselage are
among the challenges found in the mountainous backdrop. Paper targets, reactive
steel, and a remote-controlled robot that can charge, run away, or appear from
around a corner keep training fresh and exciting.
classrooms, pro-shop, an on-premise gunsmith, washrooms, and covered dining
area provide comfortable training. Storage areas at each range are organized,
uncluttered, well-maintained, and cold drinking water and powdered Gatorade is
constantly available to avoid dehydration.
fantastic facility is only as good as its instructors. Gunsite’s range officers
are some of the best around. The list of instructors shows impressive resumes
consisting of extensive military and law enforcement backgrounds. They’re also
all on the same page when it comes to following the training cadre that
originated with Cooper.
was big-game hunter, Marine in World War II, held a bachelor’s degree in
political science and a master’s degree in history, wrote numerous books, and
for decades contributed articles and columns for various firearms magazines. His
firearms safety rules are universally accepted and are probably posted on your
range’s wall. Cooper also offered his concept of the color code of mindset, from
white (unaware) to yellow (relaxed alert) to orange (specific alert) to red
hold, coupled with a focus on your handgun’s front sight, was part of the
modern pistol technique that Cooper taught and Ed Head stated “has been widely
accepted by all the law enforcement agencies” and “the man’s probably
responsible for keeping more soldiers and law enforcement officers alive than
anyone in the world.”
instructors impart gun handling and shooting skills, but they teach mindset as
well. At one point during the week,
instructor Charlie McNeese reiterated a point to emphasize its importance and a
swirling dervish of a dust cloud came through the range area. The mini-tornado
encompassed him first and then spun around the rest of the class. McNeese
raised his hands to the heavens and said, “I’m trying to teach ‘em Jeff, I’m
trying!” While Cooper may be gone, his
spirit lives on through the excellent instructors who carry on his style.
S&W 640 Pro Series 357 Magnum
Series of firearms are semi-custom offerings from Smith & Wesson that fall between
their common assembly line guns and their custom Performance Center
masterpieces, which are hand-finished by artisans. The advantage for law
enforcement is that the Pro Series provides a semi-custom weapon directly from
considered the many attributes of what could be the “ultimate snubby.” Frame
size, caliber, weight, barrel length, sights, and action/trigger style all come
together in the 640 Pro Series.
with, the revolver is based on their classic J-Frame round butt. The smallest
of their double-action frames is the obvious choice for maximum concealability.
Midsize K-Frames have been made with snubnose barrels, but their overall size
and weight means they are just too large for true deep cover use. The standard
640 has been around for several years, but the Pro Series takes it to an
entirely new level.
Pro cylinder is chambered for the 357 Magnum cartridge. This full-power round
is offered in various bullet weights and would also accommodate the 38 Special
round in standard or +P variations. Reloading from a speedloader is fast, but
the ultimate revolver reload is accomplished with full moon clips.
flattened steel clips hold five rounds by their rims and can be dumped directly
into the chambers all at once. Then the cylinder can be closed quickly with no
need to dispense with an empty speedloader. The rear of the 640 Pro cylinder
face is machined to accept full moon clips. Extra clips are available from
less weight is great for carrying, it certainly doesn’t help with recoil
management. For this reason, the 640 Pro
Series is produced from stainless steel. At 23 ounces unloaded, it’s light enough
to pack on your hip or ankle all day long. The standard Model 642 Airweight
weighs just 15 ounces, but firing the 357 Magnum in an aluminum frame handgun
is no one’s idea of entertainment.
rubber grip on the 640 Pro accommodates all three of a shooter’s gripping fingers
for a firm and secure hold. The rubber helps absorb some of the recoil since it
covers the stainless-steel rear frame. Similar grips that cover the frame are
available that are slightly shorter for pocket carry, but their design means
your pinky finger is going to hang off into space instead of being used to
control the handgun.
fluted barrel of the 640 Pro features an elegantly sculpted full-length under
lug that protects the ejection rod from being bent if the underside of the
barrel were to strike against something with brute force. The ejector rod is ¼-inch
longer than the one on a Model 40. This extra length may not sound like much,
but it makes a difference when ejecting spent cases. The longer rod kicks out
the empties better than the old shorter version.
S&W’s previous J-Frames (which date back to the original Chiefs Special in
1950) featured a rear sight grooved into the top of the frame and a front sight
machined as part of the barrel. These minimal sights are not much of an aid
when it comes to overcoming the short sight radius when aiming.
Trijicon Night Sights
Pro Series comes with a factory first: Trijicon night sights dovetailed into
top rear of the frame and just above the muzzle. These big sights are easy to see
while also being snag-free. They were found to be big and bold and easy to use
in daylight, low light, and no light.
trigger on the little revolver has a smooth face, which allows your index
finger to move across it as you pull the double-action mechanism. The hammer is
completely concealed inside the smooth contour of the frame’s top rear. The 640
Pro Series is intended to fire any primer with a hard strike of its firing pin.
S&W wants you to have the trust that this snubby will fire every single
time the trigger is pulled.
the trigger pull is over 12 pounds, it is smooth without any stacking. That
means you can better keep the sights lined up during the entire double-action
pull. Like all S&W revolvers, the trigger can be staged to the point where
the cylinder is locked up and just a little bit more pressure is necessary to
drop the concealed hammer for more precise shots.
S&W Shield 9mm / 40 S&W
and Wesson’s Military & Police (M&P) pistols have become popular with
law enforcement for good reason. Their polymer frames are lightweight and
durable. Their black Melonite® coated stainless steel slides and barrels resist
the elements that police officers encounter on duty. The M&P has proven
reliable and accurate and its ergonomic design fits most officers well due to
the pistol’s interchangeable backstraps.
striker-fired trigger offers a consistent pull from the first shot to the last,
which contributes to the M&P’s inherent accuracy. Since its introduction in
2005, the M&P has enjoyed continuing expansive acceptance by police.
an M&P Compact, which is shorter in both barrel and grip length than the
full-size M&P. However, its double-stack magazine requires plenty of pistol
grip girth. The width of a pistol is often the major factor for comfortable
concealed carry, either inside or outside your waistband. Wide guns stick out
under clothing and they bang around on seat belts and chairs.
Shield is a slimmed-down M&P that comes with two magazines. The 9mm pistol
is packaged with a short seven-round magazine and an extended eight-round
magazine with a slightly longer grip. The 40-caliber model comes with six- and
Off-Duty & Concealed Carry
slim width measures just under an inch or about the diameter of a quarter. The pistol slips inside your waistband and is
much easier to conceal comfortably than double stack guns. A quality concealed
carry hip holster helps make the Shield disappear under a shirt or jacket.
Shield weighs just 19 ounces unloaded and comes with all of the standard
M&P pistol’s attributes, except for the quick-change backstraps. In my big
hand, the Shield felt good, but it did tend to point upward when aimed naturally.
I needed to concentrate on the front sight to get on target quickly.
full-size sights are dovetailed both front and rear and come with standard
white dots. Tritium sights are available
from the aftermarket if desired. A viewing hole in the top of the
barrel/ejection port lets you peek in to verify if a cartridge is chambered and
ready to fire.
scale-style rear cocking serrations provide an excellent grasp, which is needed
to tug the slide to the rear and overcome the captive dual-recoil spring. The
Melonite-coated stainless-steel slide will protect from the elements and body
sweat. External edges are nicely softened, as they should be on a concealable
handgun, to prevent abrasions to both you and your clothing.
Shield’s trigger includes a two-piece articulated safety that allows the pistol
to be fired only when the trigger is purposefully pressed. Over-travel stops
are molded into the rear of the trigger and the inside of the trigger guard. A
firing pin safety inside the slide prevents the pistol from firing if it is
dropped. As prominently noted by the etching on the slide, the Shield does not
have a magazine disconnect and will fire with its magazine removed.
trigger pull measured an average of 7 pounds, 9 ounces, which was heavier than the
stated 6.5 pounds. There was some take-up as the trigger deactivated the firing
pin block safety, but the let-off was crisp. For its intended purpose as a
concealed combat pistol, the trigger performed well and allowed proper
placement of aimed fire.
a manual safety on the left side of the receiver if its user chooses to make use
of it. Like a 1911-style pistol, the pistol is placed on safe when this lever
is swept upward with the shooter’s thumb. A downward swipe of the thumb takes
the safe off. While the safety is small, it sticks out just enough to be moved
without effort during a natural grip. The magazine release button behind the
trigger guard ejects empty mags, which drop free with authority. The release
can be swapped to the opposite side for left-handed shooters.
Shooting at Gunsite
is the perfect place to really give the newest two S&W compacts a workout. Hundreds
of rounds were shot through the 640 Pro Series and the 9mm Shield. The 640
revolver fits in most standard holsters that are designed for the J-Frame snubnose.
Blackhawk Speed Classic holster made from Italian leather offered outstanding
performance. This holster sports an open area at the front that is spanned with
elastic. The system keeps the gun very
secure while also offering a lightning-quick draw. The gun is kept high and
tight at your waist and was comfortable to wear all day long.
took a few shots to realize that the big front sight made hitting the targets
easy during daylight. Stepping back farther and farther on the handgun ranges,
the 640 Pro Series proved that all of its design elements work very well in
conjunction with each other. The 357 provided hits well beyond the closeup
distances most assume the little snubby is capable of. Under the duress of fast
target exposure, due to Gunsite’s facing and edging targets, the BLACKHAWK!
holster and S&W revolver worked flawlessly together.
ranges at Gunsite gave the opportunity to shoot simulated settings such as an off-duty
restaurant scenario. Firing from a seated position when a threat was presented
or standing up and navigating around tables while shooting at steel reactive
targets showcased the 640 Pro’s dynamics. The rubber grip gives a naturally
high handhold for controlling recoil. The big and bold sights line up quickly
and the trigger pull does not disturb them when pulled double action.
Crimson Trace and BLACKHAWK!
the shoothouse provided the chance to swap out the factory grips with a Crimson
Trace laser grip. Working the laser in conjunction with a BLACKHAWK! Legacy
L-6V Night-Ops 570 lumen tactical flashlight demonstrated how well lights and
lasers work together to cause center mass hits consistently.
was 100 percent with empty cases falling out of the cylinder without hanging
up, even after a couple hundred rounds deprived of cleaning. Speed strips,
speedloaders, and the full moon clips all worked well. It should be noted that
five-shot moon clips are designed for a fast reload under pressure of incoming
fire. Care must be taken not to bend them and a stripper tool is a wise
acquisition to assist in loading and unloading.
range, the Shield 9mm pistols were worn on the hip in a BLACKHAWK! Custom-molded,
outside-the-waistband, black imported Italian leather holster similar to the
version used with the revolver. The Shield that I fired never hiccupped even
once during the solid three days of almost non-stop firing. It didn’t require
any additional lubrication either. As far as I witnessed, the other eight
pistols on the line suffered no malfunctions either.
Crimson Trace laser was attached to the underside of the Shield’s polymer frame
for night shooting. Mounted in front of the trigger guard with an activation
button on the front of the grip, the laser worked just as well as the
revolver’s grip version.
Wheel Gun or Bottom Feeder?
“one-on-one” competitions took place during the time spent at Gunsite. While
everyone got to fire both handguns extensively, we also went up against each other
on steel reactive targets. Not only did we learn from participation, but we
also gathered information while watching the other shooters.
were only five targets for each shooter to hit and they could complete the course
without missing, therefore eliminating the need to reload, the wheel gun was
just as competitive as the bottom-fed pistol. A lot of the 640’s ability to be
fired fast and accurate comes from its smooth trigger and excellent
reload came into play, the Shield trounced the revolver. In fairness, none of
the shooters were superfast revolver-reloading experts, even with the full moon
clips. With a few weeks of practice, a non-professional shooter could learn to
reload a revolver with a full moon clip with lightning speed.
preference and familiarity should decide which type of handgun one
prefers. Neither was found to tip the
scales heavily one way or the other. If a revolver shooter is looking for the
ultimate snubnose, his/her quest ends with the S&W 640 Pro Series. If a
pistol shooter is looking to find a 9mm or 40 caliber compact that is also
thin, reliable and accurate, then the Shield is the answer.
Steve Tracy is a 26-year police
veteran with 24 years of experience as a firearms instructor. He is also an
instructor for tactical rifles, use of force, less-than-lethal force and
scenario-based training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.