S&W M&P 9 – Part V: Light at the end of the…barrel

With the trigger squared away it was time to install the new sights. My Dawson Precision sights arrived and I quickly got to work. I put the slide in a vise with some 3/4 pine blocks as buffers and got down to business.

As you may recall, the Apex kit required the rear sight be removed so taking that off was easy. The inclusion of the nylon sight tool is really nice (thanks Apex!) because it keeps the striker plunger and spring from launching into the void when you remove the sight itself. Randy’s videos show clearly how to use the tool.

One really critical thing to mention is that the dovetails on the M&P are tapered. So when you drift out the sights you must do it from left to right as you look at the slide from the rear.

Once the rear sight was out it was time to insert the Dawson unit which is a standard DP rear sight (black, serrated). Given that dovetails vary from slide to slide (manufacturing variances, wear from previous sight installations, etc.) Dawson ships them all somewhat over-sized. I have found that fitting them is not really difficult provided you use some decent needle files and plenty of patience. I started the new rear sight into the dovetail (right to left of course) and when it was clearly not going any further (moderate taps with a tack hammer) I backed it out and examined the contact points. I could then clearly see the gouges in the sight base. I then began removing material until the gouges disappeared. I repeated this step several times, advancing further into the dovetail each time. Once the sight reached the halfway point I simply drifted it all the way in. The rear sights have a set screw so even though it isn’t critical to have the tightest fit possible, that’s what I wanted. I put the rear dead-center.

The front sight that matches the DP serrated rear is .180 tall and it comes with a nice aluminum drift punch to be used for installing the new sight mar-free. Without thinking, I started trying to remove the factory sight with this soft metal tool. The results were predictable: the sight didn’t move and the tool deformed. My late father always reminded me that nothing worked better at freeing stuck parts than penetrating oil and vibration. I’ve proven him right hundreds of times so I put some lube on the sight and spent several minutes tapping on and around the sight itself. I used a steel punch and a small hammer to try and drift it out but had no luck. I then found many references to how difficult these sights are to remove so I escalated the hostilities. Eventually I was using a large punch and a framing hammer and hitting it hard enough to make things fall over on the workbench! Still no luck. I did read several places that the best way to remove this sight was with a sight puller. I suppose this is some sort of press-like device which even then doesn’t always work.

At this point (this was later the same night after my Apex kit installation saga) I was done being subtle. Out came the Dremel with a new cutoff wheel and five minutes later the sight lay in two neat pieces on my bench without a mark on the slide. This is not for the faint of heart but with patience and resting your hand on the vise it really isn’t that difficult. I knew that sight would never go on a gun again so it was really pointless to keep pounding on the darned thing and/or waiting overnight to let the oil work its magic.

I repeated the preparation process from the rear sight but this time I had to be very careful since the front sight has no set screw. Dawson has an excellent suggestion: once the sight is able to be easily tapped 1/3 of the way into the dovetail, go ahead and drive it home from there. I used the aluminum drift that came with the kit to get it dead center and that was that.

It is noteworthy that Dawson recommends regular lube of their sights. The language they use is interesting because they mention that their sights “…require regular oiling to protect against rust, just like you would your firearm.” Ironically the M&P slide is coated stainless so it actually does not require lube for rust prevention. I bring this all up because for me it would in fact be easy to forget about this and one day find a bunch of rust on the sights. So let’s keep them protected with the occasional shot of Remoil, CLP or whatever you like.

So with the action job and new sights it was time to do some shooting. Next up in Part VI: practice and first match with the M&P9!

S&W M&P 9mm: Part I

As you may recall from my post In search of the perfect 9mm for USPSA I have begun a new journey down the path of the Smith and Wesson, Military and Police, 9mm, semi-automatic pistol, hereafter simply known as the M&P9. Having settled on this platform as my next choice for Production division competition in USPSA, I now have to get the proper accessories and perhaps some allowed modifications for the pistol itself.

My first requirements are additional magazines and a competition holster. It should come as no surprise that I am going with the excellent Blade-Tech Dropped and Offset Holster (DOH) with their Tek-Lok attachment system. I just love this setup. It attaches rigidly to the CR Speed Hi-Torque belt and makes for a really quick draw, even with a high front sight post.

For magazines, I found a real gem: Greg Cote, LLC had factory 17-round magazines for around $25 each with $5.95 flat shipping for the whole order! Compare that to $35-40 from the online superstores. That was easy. I ordered six, which along with the two that came with the gun gives me eight. I feel that eight is a good number since it allows me to have all six pouches on the belt full, plus a barney and/or starter mag plus one. Don’t laugh, Justin ran out of rounds at Glyn’s Monster Match this summer with 100 rounds. Of course, Justin is special 😉

After shooting my Ruger SR9 for a long time now with the Hi-Viz fiber optic front sight, I have not been enjoying the stock white-dot sights on the M&P, so next up was a new front sight, or so I thought. I contacted Dawson Precision and tried to order what I thought was the right sight but as you can see here, there are many sights listed as “compatible with factory rear sight”. How is this possible? After a very patient explanation I finally understood that Dawson offers their front sights in many different heights to allow the individual customer to tailor the sight height so to make elevation corrections. I initially wanted to stick with the factory rear sight which meant I would need to match it, but with which front sight? I tried measuring the factory sight but my Micrometer’s batteries were dead. The closest i could tell (just looking at the exposed reference marks on the Mic) it was .150 inches tall. It turns out this is not correct: the front sight is actually .160 tall.

Another issue then arose: how certain was I that the gun was actually hitting my true Point of Aim (POA)? As anyone who shoots with me knows, my emphasis during USPSA shooting tends to be on speed. It’s not often that I take the time to shoot at bullseye targets to really check a pistol. So, off the the range.

I set up targets at 10 and 15 yards. Dawson tech support suggested 20 yards but most competition shooting is at the closer distances. After putting about 100 rounds into 5 targets (I really like Shoot-n-See from Birchwood Casey for stuff like this becasue you can see the hits clearly from a distance) I was satisfied that the factory sights were spot-on. So now I could order the .160 f/o front sight, right? Well, not so fast.

By the time I got home from the range I had now convinced myself that trying to use the factory rear sights was not a good idea. I’ve shot guns with Dawson fixed rears and it does make a difference. Having a pure black rear sight makes the f/o front stand out even more. The dots are just a distraction during competition. So, after toying with the idea of Wilson Combat rears I decided to get the DP serrated rear sight and matching f/o front sight. This front sight needs to be .180 tall to match the DP fixed rear.

By now you have probably realized that my borderline OCD (borderline?) can and does take me to strange places but be happy in the knowledge that you as the reader make it all worthwhile since you reap the rewards. At least that’s what I hope. All these considerations result in a final decision that hopefully works and works well. If not, well you will hear about that in due time.

So, with the sights finally ordered it was on to the trigger. I’ll cover that in Part II.

Stay tuned!