Smith & Wesson and BLACKHAWK! at Gunsite

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.




Gunsite’s 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 training facility.  

Numerous 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.

Top-notch 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.   

A 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.

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 (fighting).

The two-hand 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.”   

The 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 Revolver

The Pro 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 the factory.

S&W 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.

To start 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.

The 640 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. 


Recoil Control

These 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 S&W’s website.

While 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.

The 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.

The 2.1-inch 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.

Most of 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

The 640 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. 

The 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.

While 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 Auto Pistol

Smith 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.

The 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. 

There is 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. 

The new 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 seven-round magazines.


Off-Duty & Concealed Carry

The Shield’s 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.

The 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. 

The 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.

The fish 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.

The 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.

The 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.

There is 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

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. 

A 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.

It only 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.

Other 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! NightOps

Utilizing 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.

Reliability 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. 

On the 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. 

A 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?

Several “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.

If there 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 sights. 

When a 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.

Personal 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

Published in Tactical Response, Nov/Dec 2013

Rating : Not Yet Rated

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