Don’t look at the front and rear sights. Just find the dot and press the trigger.
Is this really possible?
Yes, with today’s mini red dot sights on your handgun. As I mentioned in my previous red dot articles and reviews, there are several mini red dot sights (MRDS) on handguns that are compact, lightweight, durable, and moderately priced.
But, are they for you? Do they really help you with speedy and precise target hits? We know that the human eye cannot focus on three things (front sight, rear sight, and target) at different distances at one time for our sight alignment and sight picture. Our eyes’ depth of field is anatomically limited. So, we practice and focus on the front sight while aligning it inside a blurred rear notch and placing it in a proper down-range relationship with a blurred target.
Needless to say, this is very challenging and takes many hours of practice to get correct. Some do not ever perfect this. Folks with older eyes have problems seeing and focusing on the front sight, getting the sight picture, making long distance shots, and even locating the target, especially if they wear prescription glasses.
However, a MRDS can simplify this task and help with focal distances, speed, and precision hits. Using a MRDS with both eyes open, there is usually no need to focus on your front sight and use the rear sight, nor do your usual sight alignment. The shooter just finds and focuses on the single aiming-point dot and presses the trigger, no matter the focal distance. Even with everyday glasses you wear. Wherever I am looking at whatever distance, the sight is in focus because the sight is the dot which has been superimposed on the target.
It does sound simple enough, but there are pros and cons. It is not a substitute for poor shooting techniques and does require training to find the dot. In my opinion, it should not be a substitute for proper sight alignment, but rather a useful supplemental tool with distinct advantages. You may still have to use standard iron sights. Once a shooter’s learning curve improves with the MRDS, he/she should notice improved precision in hits and speed in multiple targets acquisition, with enhanced peripheral vision.
Of course, this varies for different folks and their abilities and physical capabilities. For this aged dinosaur with failing vision, I don’t have to wear corrective glasses to see the sights as before, just find the dot and press the trigger, while in the proper position to do so. MRDSs have proven to be very fast in speed-based shooting competitions, primarily because of their simplicity of use, with both eyes open, a single aiming point, no front-sight focus, and no looking for a clear sight picture.
Recently, I reviewed the fine Springfield Armory XD(M) OSP 9mm pistol with the attached Vortex Venom MRDS and its 3MOA. Here I want to review the Smith-Wesson M&P Ported 9L with the already attached Shield Mini Sight (SMS) Red Dot with 4MOA in 9mm. Thanks to Smith-Wesson for loaning me this gun package to review. The SMS is currently sold separately under the JPoint brand in the U.S., but previously was sold under other brand names, like Firepoint, Tasco Optima, and Trijicon Red Dot. Since this review is about the total gun-red dot package, before I address the gun, I want to give you the SMS optic specifications and features, for your general information.
The SMS has a four MOA MRDS which is a very good sized dot that helps the shooter balance fast target acquisition with precision shots. The lens and external housing material are polycarbonate which is scratch resistant. The battery is “always on” without an “off” mode, which can be a tactical advantage. But regularly check your battery. Because it has an automatic dimming feature, battery life can be saved and extended. Shield, the manufacturer, rates the battery life at 3 years for average use and at 4 years for battery storage in the dark, like under your concealed carry garment or storage with the rubber rain cover.
One thing to note about the battery. The Vortex MRDS on the Springfield, which I reviewed last month, has a top-loading battery compartment for easy battery replacement without removing the optic which helps maintain its zero. This SMS MRDS does not have a slideout battery drawer for easy battery replacement, so it is more cumbersome to replace it and may require some zeroing. But the SMS battery is suppose to last from 3 to 4 years, so this may not be a major concern. However, the very recently designed Shield RMS model (now with limited availability and for just a few guns) has a slideout battery drawer and a very slim mounting plate for better co-witnessing. With this hands-on field trial and review, I want to help you with my formal test and my opinions and the evaluation of this particular Smith-Wesson M&P 9L 9mm pistol with the Shield SMS RDMS attached as a package.
Remember with MRDS sights, the shooter does NOT focus on the front sight nor do the usual sight alignment. Rather, you find and focus on the dot, which can be elusive. So, I was anxious to discover if I can accurately shoot the 9L with the SMS MRDS and what my learning curve would be.
- Would I be able to smoothly transition to target/threat-focused shooting, “finding the dot,” and keeping it steady with minimal movement, rather than primarily using my front sight focus and sight alignment with my iron sights?
- Would I use this complete MRDS-pistol system for my concealed carry handgun?
- Would I recommend it for any purpose?
One important concept which I wanted to evaluate was co-witnessing. Co-witnessing means that you can still see and use your iron sights along with or instead of a MRDS. The iron sight should be placed at the appropriate added height so you can see both the red dot and iron sights. The back-up iron sight (BUIS) would be helpful support for the MRDS in case of failure.
In this review, I want to give you my honest opinions about the M&P 9L 9mm with the included Shield SMS MRDS attached. I already have the M&P 9mm with the 5″ barrel, versions 1 and 2, as well as other M&Ps, so I am familiar with its fine operating mechanics. So what process will I use to test and evaluate the system.
First, I want to give you the M&P 9L SMS 9mm Specifications and Features in a summary chart. Then I’ll list my specific criteria, then compare each criterion to the gun’s characteristics and features, and lastly show my range live-fire test results with the MRDS to help you analyze and compare your handguns and make the best selection for yourself. You can add or subtract from my criteria to meet your needs and preferences.
Maybe you want to compare this M&P Ported 9mm with a MRDS to the Springfield XDM-Vortex package I reviewed here recently or to other current MRDS models. One of my previous articles here about general MRDS factors, I listed just some of the many MRDS systems available and defined some terms.
Know that I am not on the Smith-Wesson payroll, have not been paid by them for this review, and not influenced to say certain things about the gun. I want to be honest and straight-forward with my opinions and ideas the way I see the MRDS pistol to sincerely help folks.
Specifically, I want to:
- Learn how accurate is the pistol with the RD attached out of the box and at short and longer distances.
- Is the MRDS stable, does it hold its zero well, stay securely attached, and not cause zeroing problems?
- Can the RD battery be easily changed without having to re-zero it?
- What weight is the trigger press?
- Is the trigger really light and smooth?
- Is it a reliable gun with the RD attached and with different ammo?
- Is the slide stop and/or mag release ambidextrous and does it freely release mags?
- Do you have to press the trigger to disassemble it?
- What are the pros, cons about the M&P Ported 9L gun with the Shield SMS MRDS?
- Is this a 9mm gun I would recommend for concealed carry and/or home defense?
For the Smith-Wesson M&P Ported 9L SMS 9mm gun package, below are two charts that list the Specifications and some Features for the pistol. If you are interested in this package, remember sometimes you can buy it about $50.-$100 or so less than posted retail. Next, I give you my 10 criteria that I use to evaluate all guns. Finally, I present my analysis and how I specifically evaluated this gun against each of my criteria to recommend or not recommend it. As always, set your own criteria and priorities, do your own research and check my data, information, etc. with yours, for your very personal selection process. Below are the M&P Ported 9L SMS 9mm pistol specifications and features.
Criteria and Considerations
Here are just 10 of my criteria and factors I use for evaluating any handgun, so I will use them for the M&P 9L SMS. In addition to my criteria, there are other subjective features that may be appealing for some, like smooth rounded corners, ambi mag release, action, caliber, appearance, number of mags included, type of sights/modifications, bore axis, rail, grip angle, included extras like a holster and pouch, customer service, etc. So, I combined these into my last Miscellaneous criterion. I must admit that ALL gun-choice decisions involve tradeoffs, but I really want ALL of my criteria to be met. I assigned a total possible point score of 10 points for each of my 10 criteria for a total possible score of 100 points. You can certainly add your own additional criteria and preferences or subtract any of mine.
In deciding, you make your own tradeoffs according to your personal goals, priorities, preferences, needs, and use, but take a total system perspective and recognize that there are several overall features, characteristics, and pros and cons to include and then consider them.
Smith-Wesson M&P Ported 9L SMS 9mm Pistol Range Test
Thanks to Sig Sauer and Federal Premium for providing some ammo for my testing and evaluation of the M&P 9L. I shot high-quality 9mm ammo that I had on hand:
- Sig Sauer Elite Ball 115 grain FMJ (50 rounds, rated MV=1185 fps & ME=359 ftlbs);
- Federal American Eagle 115 grain TSJ (50 rounds, rated MV=1130 fps & ME=326 ftlbs.); and
- Polycase Inceptor RNP 65 grain (50 rounds, rated MV=1525 fps & ME= 336 ftlbs.)
I only fired about 150 rounds total to evaluate this gun (usually I shoot 500 rounds over a couple of days) to decide if I want to carry the gun and/or use it for personal protection or not. The ammo worked very well and I did not have any malfunctions or stoppages. The M&P 9L SMS has really nice ergonomics. It felt great in my medium-sized hands, was comfortable, and the Medium palmswell grip insert was just right for me. The aggressive texturing of the M&P 9L SMS grips was definitely an improvement over the included grips on my original gun. NOT too aggressive. I really like them.
There were 3 interchangeable palmswell grips and the medium worked for me. The gun did not slip in my hands and I was able to handle the recoil easily. It does have an ambidextrous slide stop, with reversible mag release, and optional ambi thumb safety. The slide was very easy for me to rack and the felt recoil and muzzle rise were very manageable, given its all steel slide, barrel, sights, and steel chassis. The 8 ports in the slide helped me control the muzzle flip. The new mag release button is steel compared to the polymer one on my original M&P. Below I will get into my evaluation factors and my opinions for each of the criteria, after the range testing.
This M&P 9L was very similar to my original standard M&P 9mm in terms of its reliability, accuracy, grip angle, takedown, and basic operations. However, it was definitely improved over the original in terms of the trigger, tactile reset, grip texturing, and rigid steel chassis that reduced the torque and felt recoil when firing it. This new M&P really impressed me as a very accurate and reliable (with the limited 150 rounds fired by me) carry and personal protection gun. After initially cleaning the gun and then shooting it at the range for the first time, my first 17 rounds fired rapid fire with the Federal American Eagle TSJ and the Sig Elite Ball FMJ at 5 yards, all hit in a nice 3.0″ or less group for this old codger. These target hits were very acceptable for close-up self-defense encounters for me, especially given my unfamiliarity with MRDSs. Finding the dot was challenging, but I finally learned to do it, but need more practice. BUT, shoot it for yourself to make your own decisions, based on your abilities, goals, proficiency, and purpose. Below are my hits for my first 17 rounds at only 5 yards with the M&P 9L.
Range Test Results for the M&P Ported 9L SMS 9mm for each of my 10 Criteria:
1. Accuracy and Reliability – Score: 10
The Accuracy of the 9L SMS with its 5″ barrel and longer sight radius and SMS sight was very good for self-defense purposes at distances of 5, 7, 10, and 20 yards. The 4 MOA dot size was just right. My groups at each of the up-close distances were very acceptable and within 2.0-3.0 inches for the first time I ever fired the gun with its MRDS, after first cleaning it. Groups were acceptable at 10 and 20 yards, after zeroing the MRDS. At first, given my limited time with red dots, I found I had to take more time than I wanted to “find the dot.” As I shot more, my learning curve improved and I could find the dot quicker. I want to fire more than only 150 rounds with this gun before I even think about carrying it or using it for home defense. I did notice that the dot was not as crisp as I wanted. Trying the gun at night in the dark of my house, it was hard to pick up the dim dot, but outside in the light it was readily identifiable. The 6.0# trigger press I experienced was crisp, short and smooth. It definitely met my personal preference press range and criterion and helped my accuracy. The slide and barrel are stainless steel and the barrel is match grade with their Melonite treatment for a hardened, durable corrosion-resistant finish. I used my Modified-Isosceles Stance, a two-handed grip, when I shot the gun.
2. Trigger Press – Score: 9
The Trigger Press averaged between 5.90-6.00 pounds with 10 readings from my Lyman Electronic Trigger Pull Gauge. This was certainly acceptable and within my criterion limit for my press range for my personal protection guns, but I am use to shooting single action guns with a little lighter press than that. Given the only 150 rounds I fired with it, this press was fine. It will probably improve over time after more break-in and getting 500 rounds or more through it. I prefer that my personal protection guns have a max. of 6.5 pounds press or so, so this is well within my limits. This is very much personal preference.
I like the improved smooth trigger press and short reset.
3. Trigger – Score: 10
The Trigger had a very identifiable click and reset point that was easy to feel. I liked the short takeup and positive reset trigger of this trigger. I experienced no stacking in the press weight and the trigger was not gritty. My shots were consistent each time and I could easily recognize both the tactile and audible reset point. They definitely improved the trigger.
4. Barrel Length – Score: 10
The 5.00-inch length Barrel with the 8 ports in the slide helped control muzzle flip and felt recoil. The match-grade steel barrel was high quality and with the melonite finish it should be very durable and corrosion resistant. With some work on my wardrobe, the barrel length was concealable, but not optimum for my body build (i.e. big bones- Ha!) This length barrel contributes to good balance, handled & pointed well, was acceptable but not optimum for carry, and I had no feeding problems whatsoever. In my opinion, this gun is best used for home defense, competition, or fun plinking.
5. Sights – Score: 9
The iron sights were a white dovetailed front and a fixed 2-dot rear. The front sight was tall and suppressor height for help co-witnessing. I had no problem co-witnessing them and easily used the non-cluttered Lower One-Third Co-Witness style. They were distinguishable and worked well without the red dot sight attached or off.
The SMS red dot sights were made by Shield Firearms and Sights in the United Kingdom. The company has been making sights for over 30 years, even for other brands like Trijicon, JPoint, Firepoint, and Tasco Optima. The SMS weighs only about half an ounce, had a 4 MOA dot, red LED, and the dot was powered by one CR2032 battery.
I was disappointed in the red dot, primarily because it was not that bright and crisp and was difficult to pick up at nighttime, and I could not do it quickly. My lack of experience with red dots contributed to this. Maybe the battery life was a factor, but the company rates it at 2-3 years, assuming dark storage. The intensity automatically adjusts based on ambient light, dims itself, and the sight is always on. Probably with more practice I could find the dot quicker and deploy them better on target.
I liked that the viewing window is very large, compared to some other mini sights. The rain protector cover can really help save battery life, as well as protect from scratches and damage. For me at my present experience level, I cannot justify the SMS sight for my concealed carry purpose. I liked the sights and the gun, but It was a wide gun. A big problem with some red dot systems, but NOT with this one, is that the shooter cannot co-witness with the iron sights and this could have major implications in a stressful encounter when backup sights are needed.
6. Proper Gun Weight – Score: 8
The 24.1 ounce unloaded weight of the M&P 9L 9mm, plus the MRDS weight of about 1/2 ounce, plus the ammo weight was not too heavy nor too bulky for carry for me, but not optimum. The weight and the ports did help me control muzzle flip, lessened felt recoil, contributed to accuracy, but there are lighter guns out there for carry. This gun package is nice for home defense and fun at the range. Included are 4 metal mounting plates for several optics with screws and a tool for this gun. It is easy to change optics. There is also a polymer plate for when you do not want a MRDS attached. For me, I cannot carry this all day as my everyday carry gun and weight is just one factor.
7. Caliber – Score: 9
I really liked shooting the M&P Ported 9L SMS. It was comfortable in my hand and I easily handled the recoil. I really like and prefer the 9mm caliber for my main concealed carry and personal protection gun. I enjoy practicing with the 9mm, since it is not snappy and the recoil doesn’t bother me so much. The 9L digested the ammo well without a single malfunction or stoppage.
8. Capacity – Score: 8
There were two steel mags with witness holes included, both 17-rounders. I liked their high capacity and they were very sturdy and well made. It would be nice to have a third mag included. I believe for almost ALL uses a shooter should have at least 3 mags minimum on hand and included, to save up front expense for buying another. I understand the added cost of the MRDS with the goal of keeping costs down are factors. I had no feeding problems with any of the ammo and the mags ejected freely and worked well.
9. Ergonomics – Score: 10
The Ergonomics of the Ported 9L SMS were excellent. It felt great in my hands and the grip texturing was just right. Some say it is too aggressive, but not for me. Of course, I fired just 150 rounds. I could grip the gun securely and comfortably with my medium-sized hands. I was able to easily reach all the controls without changing my grip. The contoured edges and grip angle helped me with a solid tactile grip. It fit my hand very well and I liked that the model had no manual thumb safety and no mag safety disconnect.
10. Miscellaneous – Score: 9
First, I disassembled, lubed, cleaned, and re-assembled the M&P 9L easily and quickly before I shot it. I did NOT have to press the trigger to disassemble it and it was quick to takedown. There is a Loaded Chamber Indicator on top. This gun has a lot of safety features like a trigger safety and an internal firing pin safety. The gun does not come with a holster, but I tried my holster for my M&P 2.0 and it fit fine. The ambi slide lock lever and the polymer cover for the MRDS to prevent bumps, scratches, and possible re-zeroing were nice. The MRDS has anti-reflective coating on the lens. The Auto Mode increases and decreases brightness depending on the ambient lighting conditions and is always on. The battery life is about 3 years. The M&P 9L does include accessories in the nice lockable hard case, like the MRDS tool & screws, 4 mounting plates, cover, 3 backstrap panels, a lock, and owner’s manual. The M&P 9L has a Lifetime Warranty.
Conclusions for M&P Ported 9L SMS Package and for Carry Purpose
Total Points = 92 out of 100 Possible
I RECOMMEND this M&P 9L SMS handgun and MRDS sight package for consideration as your home defense and/or fun plinking range gun. You even might want to consider it as your concealed carry gun after you gain familiarity with it.
I really do like its accuracy, reliability, manageable felt recoil, its grip angle, and its short, smooth, and great trigger. I also like the quality and many nice features of the Shield SMS MRDS. I understand Shield has a new RMS MRDS with a slimmer mounting plate and a slide-out battery tray for easier battery change.
The gun’s ergonomics are excellent and it is a fine striker-fired gun, but this review is about the total gun package with the MRDS attached. There are a lot of considerations in deciding to go with a MRDS system. Of course, cost is one factor and this total package is fairly priced. Making the decision is a very personal one and there is no single best answer, because we have different needs, preferences, uses, medical and eye conditions, wallet depths, etc.
Adding and using a MRDS sight to your concealed carry gun, involves many variables, options, factors, and prices. A MRDS sighting system is a great technological tool and a positive future handgun system and direction for us. In my opinion, a red dot sighting system does not substitute or replace the necessity for your handgun fundamentals and being able to effectively use your iron sights and do sight alignment and sight picture. An MRDS alone will not make you a great shooter. There is a beneficial symbiotic relationship between the tool and skills.
I have given you my opinions and just a few factors to think about. So, I hope this has helped you and saved you some time my friends. Is now the time for you to explore a MRDS system for your handgun? This is a very good package to consider for your home defense and competitive shooting purposes. Maybe after much practice with this system or any MRDS, you can consider it for your concealed carry purpose.
I would like to shoot the M&P 9L with the SMS MRDS more to get in 500 rounds minimum for break-in to finalize my long-term reliability opinion, before I use it for home defense or competition. Hope you can handle and try this system, or another MRDS system, and shoot it to decide for yourself. Decide on your criteria, how you will primarily use the gun, and what features are important to you and which ones you are willing to pay for ahead of your trial. Then critically evaluate the gun YOURSELF per your criteria and purpose, with standard drills, with various ammo types and brands, over an extended break-in period of about 500 rounds.
Remember, Safety First Always and Continued Success.
Springfield, MA 01104
Federal American Eagle Ammo
Anoka, MN 55303
Sig Sauer Elite Performance Ammo
Newington, NH 03801
Polycase Inceptor Ammo
Savannah, GA 31408
Photos by Author and Manufacturer.
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2017 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. or copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at ColBFF@gmail.com.