S&W M&P 9 – Part VII: Update

Well, it’s been a couple of months now with the M&P9. Let’s review where we are so far:

  • Apex Tactical “Competition Action Enhancement Kit”
  • Dawson sights (fiber 1.25 red front/ black serrated wide rear)
  • Black Diamond grip tape
  • stainless guide rod
  • ISMI 13lb spring
  • Polished the bearing surfaces on the trigger bar, striker block plunger and the sear.

That’s everything that’s been done to the pistol other than shoot it and clean it. As you may recall in Part VI, I didn’t have a great experience at my first match with this setup but this past weekend saw much improvement.

Since the September match I have put about 2.5k rounds through the gun. As you can see in the videos of the match the true character of this pistol is being revealed. I came in 2nd in production, winning the longest stage of the match outright. Additionally GMPS calculates combined scores across all divisions, which isn’t valid as far as USPSA is concerned but it’s a nice set of data to compare overall placement. Even with minor PF and 10-round mags, I was 6th overall. This is the best I’ve shot at a GMPS match by a good margin. The biggest change was in my accuracy. If you watch the Part IV video my run was under 40 seconds, due in large part to the fact that I cleared the Texas Star in six shots (one miss). Granted it wasn’t far away but it did have two no-shoot poppers sitting at the 5 and 7 o’clock positions, which made it pretty difficult. Also my A-hit ratio for the match was my highest ever.

During the course of the match I had one failure to feed after a mag change but I couldn’t tell what happened and you can’t see in the video. That was almost certainly not the fault of the pistol so I have to give it a perfect score on that account.

So this is much more the kind of result I expected from this platform. I think it will only get better. Hats off to the fine folks at Smith & Wesson for producing this outstanding pistol. Thanks also to Dawson Precision for those great sights and of course, thanks to Apex Tactical for the action kit which makes this easily the best competition pistol I’ve ever shot by a wide margin.

Maku Mozo!

S&W M&P 9: Part III (with a sidetrack into USPSA history)

In 2001 the US Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) decided to add a new competitive division. It would be known as “Production” class. The idea was simple: allow shooters to compete with common duty/self-defense pistols in stock configurations. These would include double-action/single-action pistols, like the Sig Sauer 226, or double-action-only pistols like the Glock 17. The hope was that by lowering the cost of admission to the sport it would attract many new shooters who might otherwise shrink at the thought of spending a lot of money on a custom-built Limited or Open gun. They certainly called that one right. The ranks have grown tremendously over the last decade with most new shooters starting in Production. The trick of course was to keep it simple with rules that are easily understood and enforceable.


With very little restriction on Limited and Open guns, the new challenge would be how to insure fair competition among this new class of shooters. Production guns must have no external modifications other than improved notch-and-post sights and grip tape. The current clarifications from the USPSA board have indicated that internal components may be improved/replaced so long as the dimensions remain essentially unchanged. Additionally the overall weight of the pistol must be within a couple of ounces of the manufacturer’s declared weight. At Level III matches and above it is routine to see guns checked against size and weight restrictions so even with the freedom to make internal changes, care must be taken to stay within the weight limits.

Given that grip tape is in fact allowed I decided to try it on my first gun and I have never looked back. It keeps the gun absolutely locked to the skin of my hand. Recoil moves the gun and my hand/skin but because the contact points do not change, the gun always comes back to precisely the same spot. This is huge for me. It also works wet or dry, with clean or dirty hands.

Getting back to my current project gun, while waiting for the Apex Tactical action kit I decided to move forward with the grip tape installation. One really nice thing about the M&P9 is that there are many third-party vendors out there making great stuff for this platform. This includes manufacturers of pre-cut grip tape panels. While I think they look great and are certainly easy to install, I just couldn’t get over how expensive they were for what is essentially skate board tape worth about $1. So, back when I started in Production I bought a roll of Black Diamond skateboard grip tape for around $8, including shipping. I have made at least 6 grip covers and still have enough to make about 4 more.

My process for creating a panel is that I start with paper, create a basic template then cut out a slightly-oversized panel out of the roll of grip tape and then custom fit it from there. Once I have a panel cut down to the precise (more or less) shape I then create a permanent paper template and trace out at least one more on the roll of tape. I then label which gun it’s for. Now to install it.

My first attempts on the SR9 resulted in the panel 1) not fully contacting the grip in all areas and 2) the seam coming loose routinely at the back. I found two tricks that fixed this. First, I used some of that awesome stretchy silicone tape to tightly wrap the installed panel. This stuff sticks only to itself so it is easy to take off after the panel is fully formed to the grip and it leaves no residue at all on the panel. Second, I found some tips on how to glue the panel to itself at the seam, which has worked perfectly.

I found the “black rubberized cyanoacrylate” at my local hobby store. This stuff is basically gel superglue with some sort of rubber in it. It is used mostly to attach rubber tires to model cars, planes, etc. It has a very strong bond but remains somewhat flexible. The key to using this stuff is the use of spray hardener. This stuff also is sold at hobby stores. You can use it several ways but what I found works best is to have one side of the seam firmly pressed against the backstrap then apply the glue to it. Next, begin to press the remaining side (or flap) of the panel onto the backstrap just to the point where it is touching the beginning edge of the glue. Then spray the hardener/accelerant right onto the glue bead then immediately press the flap down into the glue and apply the afore-mentioned silicone tape tightly around the entire grip.

I usually leave the silicone tape on overnight to give the entire panel a good chance to completely conform to the grip in all areas. The glue seam is actually set within seconds but leaving the silicone tape on longer insures a perfect fit. I like easy.

So this morning I removed the silicone tape and there is a perfect grip tape panel on the M&P! It took all of about 1/2 hour from scratch and if I need to replace the panel it can be done even faster since I have an extra panel already cut. The truth is, once I started using the glue I have never had one come loose or need to be replaced. If it does become necessary to remove the panel simply cutting it with a knife is easy. Start with the blade tip at the bottom and keep the sharpened edge away from the grip. It comes right off.

Lastly I wanted to mention that because the M&P has three different size “palm swells”, you can customize the grip fit for your hand. I went with the small model since my hands are small and I knew the grip tape would add an ever-so-slight amount of girth to the grip. I’ve been practicing reloading drills this morning and it works perfectly.

In Part IV: A Comedy of Errors, we learn the importance of following directions 😉

USPSA: Formula 1 of shooting sports

I have always enjoyed shooting but when I tried bullseye competition it was never much fun. In fact I found it very stressful and I would often finish feeling more tense than when I started. If shooting wasn’t fun then I really had no reason to do it so I left that pursuit behind. Some time later when I first encountered “practical shooting” I felt that it was probably not a good idea for me to even try it. I watched some guys at my local range practicing stages and while I was intrigued I kept thinking about my bullseye experience.

While trying to resolve a problem with an AK-47 I was put in touch with a fellow who turned out to be the local US Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) guru. What started as a 10-minute meeting to help me with the rifle turned into an hour-long session describing practical shooting, showing me his guns and his reloading gear and even heading out to his backyard range to try out his Open gun. With this kind of introduction I could hardly resist.

A friend had a Ruger SR-9 and suggested I borrow it to try out this new facet of shooting. I took a simple Fobus holster and a nylon mag pouch and showed up at the next practice session. After getting the thorough safety briefing which is the hallmark of USPSA activity I watched the other shooters figuring out how to manage the stage then we all took turns shooting it. When it was finally my turn and the Range Officer said, “Shooter make ready.” I was pretty excited. Then the timer beeped and everything changed.

It is rare in my experience that a single event or a single place and time can be identified as the beginning or end of something in my life. Usually things happen slowly over time with very gradual change. When that timer went off it felt like a thousand volts were shooting through my body. I drew my pistol and engaged those dozen or so targets as if I was in a trance. Time stretched out like in a car accident. I had never experienced anything quite like it. When the RO said, “If finished, unload and show clear”, it took a moment to “come to”. I was exhilarated. I realized immediately that this was my sport.

I have been shooting Production class, still shooting a modified (legally) Ruger SR-9, for a little more than a year. I’ve learned a lot about the sport and been lucky enough to shoot matches at several clubs throughout New England. I’ve made a lot of new friends doing so and also brought along a bunch of shooting buddies to join in the fun. The combination of speed, power and accuracy required has been a really enjoyable challenge. I also started reloading ammunition as a result of the required high round-counts (more on that later).

Most importantly, I still get that huge rush every time that timer goes off.

Shooter make ready!

William