As with most products, the adage on the gun market is “bigger is better,” but smaller is more convenient for concealment. Modern shooters have many options in overall size, weight and caliber for their guns. Some prefer a concealed gun to be on the smaller side. Others like their pistol larger because of either its reduced recoil or their own physical build. Accordingly, I have chosen a good cross section of guns to discuss. Alas, space requirements preclude me from covering more models, but this should give you an idea of what’s out there today.
S&W M&P Shield
I just received a new gun from Smith & Wesson called the M&P Shield. As you might guess, this gun is the latest in slim technology, available in both 9mm Luger and .40 S&W cartridges. With a practically standard 3.1-inch barrel the gun measures a curt 6 inches and weighs 19 ounces empty. As for width, the top part of the slide only measures 1 inch across. No doubt, this gun is made for carry and qualifies as the perfect concealed weapon.
To make the Shield more concealable, S&W has included both extended and flat magazines, altering the length of the grip while allowing shooters an extra margin of comfort. Either one fits my average build and hands, but if my feet were held to the fire I’d opt for the flat option and the loss of one round of capacity, regardless of the caliber. Some may balk at the almost 7-pound trigger pull, but keep in mind that this is not a target gun. With the way the leverage has been engineered I was, in all honesty, amazed the trigger pull was this high, especially for a striker-fired pistol—it is that good.
In construction, the gun follows the M&P line perfectly. The slide and barrel are stainless steel with a proprietary Melonite coating that adds a nice bit of weight to the gun. Ripple-type slide serrations aid in cocking, and the dished-out area on the slide adds a bit of class. Over the years sights have always been the bane of shooters, particularly on hideout guns. But Smith has rallied to the cause with near-perfect sights for the Shield. The notch on the rear sight is crisp and cut large enough to fill the void of the single white-dot front sight: on the rear-sight blade there are twin dots; lining up all three dots gives you a good sight picture even in low light. For those who wish to zero the weapon with one particular brand of ammunition or bullet weight, the rear sight is not adjustable according to Smith. However, the front sight is adjustable via a brass drift.
Operator controls are on the left side of the gun and include (from front to back) a rotating takedown lever, a slide stop and a flush-mounted manual thumb safety.
There is a loaded-chamber indicator at the rear of the barrel as seen topside. The magazine release is large enough for proper operation. And there are stippled areas on the grip while the grip itself has a slight arch to it at the rear. The triggerguard has been enlarged so the gun can be used with or without gloves, and the internal passive trigger safety prevents the gun from being fired when dropped.
Firing the gun proved an interesting experience despite its small size and streamlining. All guns were fired at the customary 7 yards. Groups for the M&P Shield averaged 2.5 inches with over-the-counter Winchester ball ammunition. Recoil was pleasant for a gun of this size. Suggested retail is $449. (smith-wesson.com; 800-331-0852)
With the way things are going now, you may have a hard time choosing a concealed weapon. Witness the Ruger SR9c, a modified SR40 series handgun that is positioned to become very popular, very fast. When you pick it up, the reasons become obvious.
The SR9c is a little larger and heavier than S&W’s Shield, but this is why I like the gun—the weight tones down recoil on the 9mm round. Also, the SR9c has a wider slide and, going one better, offers different magazine configurations to adapt to the shooter’s needs. First, you have a standard 10-round magazine for use with a flat baseplate for ultimate concealment. Ruger goes even further by offering a finger-grip extension that allows your smallest digit to rest naturally at the base of the gun for support. And for states that allow them, Ruger offers a 17-round magazine that sticks down past the grip frame but has an extension adapter.
The SR9c suits my style with some excellent concealment options. One is the ambidextrous safety lever that, like your favorite Model 1911, locks the sear and the slide when in the up position. A quick flick downward places the gun in action, and the safety is just large enough that I can place my thumb halfway back on the lever to move it to the down position. As with all Ruger guns there are internal safeties in concert with trigger bars and interlocks to improve safe handling.
Topside, the two-dot rear-sight assembly is adjustable for elevation by means of a slot screw—for windage, via a drift. The front sight is angled to prevent snagging from a holster, and there is a loaded-chamber indicator at the rear of the barrel. Along with the ambi safety, the magazine can also be ejected from either side of the gun—a real boon to left-handed shooters. Front of the triggerguard is an abbreviated Picatinny rail for a small light. The guard itself is rounded with enough width for a solid purchase of the weapon with your support hand. The grip too is well engineered, having the right amount of checkering on both sides and on the front of the frame. You can also change the grip configurations without extra parts or tools by pushing the pin outward from the gun and reversing the insert to either a flat or an arched backstrap.
On the left side of the gun there are operator levers, which include the slide release and a takedown pin for easy disassembly. On the slide there are twin-cocking serrations, and at the rear there is a visual indication of the striker when the gun is cocked or uncocked. Firing the gun in the 9mm chambering was indeed a pleasure when considering the weight, grip size, stature of the gun and 7-pound trigger pull. With the Ruger, I managed groups around 3 inches.
Here’s what you ultimately get with these new Rugers: a 3.5-inch barrel length, a choice from four 9mm models of various capacities and one .40 S&W model, a bright stainless or blued slide, an overall weight of around 23.5 ounces empty, a case, a lock and a magazine loader. Suggested retail is $529. (ruger.com)
The Taurus PT740 and the S&W M&P Shield are virtually identical in many ways. Sure, they are touted as “slim” models (Taurus boosts the trimness on its slide), and for all practical purposes they have the same weight and overall length. But, thank goodness for competitive spirit, there is more than meets the eye.
The grip on the PT740 is polymer like everyone else’s, but I like the way Taurus put that little flare or arch at the base. It seems to fit my hand better and, combined with the serrations and checkering, offers a more secure grip on the gun. Unlike most others, Taurus only includes one type of magazine pad—if I had my druthers I would also include one with a finger-grip extension for those with overly large hands. The gun is available in 9mm and .40 caliber models with 7+1 and 6+1 capacities respectively.
While still on the grip, the triggerguard seems to have been extended forward (good idea) for larger hands or for those who use the gun with gloves. There is a rakish angle to the grip, making the gun easy to hold with two hands. However, a bit of checkering on the front of the guard would be most welcome. The mag release is easy to get at thanks to a relief molded into the grip—it’s also reversible. With the upward angle of the frame forward of the triggerguard, the PT740 is easy to holster.
The slide is tastefully done in either a blue carbon or a matte stainless finish. Cocking serrations at the rear are machined in a bold pattern. The rear-slide assembly is adjustable for windage and elevation albeit with very tiny screws. But you have to commend Taurus here: they included a miniature screwdriver on their locking fob. The now common two dots on the rear sight combined with one dot on the front make for a distinct sighting picture.
Operator controls are more than adequate, and I like the manual safety lever. It is large enough to work in heated situations and small enough to stay out of the way when holstered. Forward of that is the slide release, and ahead is the disassembly latch. Aside from the manual safety, there is a trigger safety, a firing-pin block, a loaded-chamber indicator and the Taurus Security System (standard on every Taurus gun). This is probably one of the best locking systems around: it’s inconspicuous, easy to use and secure. All you need to do is insert the Allen wrench supplied with the gun and turn it until you feel a click to lock the gun. Reverse the turn, and the gun is ready to fire.
Using a silhouette target at around 7 yards, the gun placed enough shots in a small area to instill confidence in any shooter. However, chambered for .40 S&W, felt recoil was robust. Groups ran just under 4 inches. I would opt for this gun in 9mm. Suggested retail is $498. (taurususa.com; 305-624-1115)
Magnum Research Baby Eagle
The Baby Eagle is for those wanting something larger in a compact gun or a weapon that won’t be carried for long intervals. It has a lockwork system that fires double-action on the first shot and single-action on every shot thereafter. Like others of its ilk, the double action was rather long and heavy at 14 pounds while the single action was much better at 4 pounds and with a bit of takeup before the sear broke. The trigger itself has a sharp curve to it—something I’m not used to—but it does position your finger on the trigger face without the fear of it slipping off. The triggerguard has been squared off for two-hand shooting and, like the hammer, is serrated to prevent slip.
The Baby Eagle’s sights are well done with a crisp notch. The gun has the customary three-sight system with two dots on the rear assembly and one on the front. The sights are not adjustable by conventional means: you have to drift both for windage only. A thin line of serrations follow the front sight to the rear sight to help break up reflections on a bright day. For convenience, the safety levers are located on both sides of the slide, and when the gun is cocked and the levers are moved downward the hammer falls to the decock position, which locks the firing pin while disconnecting the trigger mechanism.
The slide release on the side of the gun is larger than most, extending to the rear and out for ease of operation. Directly below that is the magazine release. Pushing it inward drops the magazine with little or no effort. The Baby Eagle comes with two 10-round magazines, and you have the option of purchasing 15-round magazines. For the record, with the magazine out, the gun will fire, so it’s imperative that you check the gun for loaded rounds before securing it at home or in your holster.
The Baby Eagle I tested had a polymer frame (steel frames are available) and hit the scales at nearly 25 ounces, roughly 50 percent more than other so-called slim guns. Add some ammunition, and you are looking at 2 pounds even. Barrel length is 3.5 inches, and overall length is 7.25 inches. I found the gun to be very comfortable in hand thanks to the larger grip frame complete with an arched housing. While the sides of the grip are stippled, the front and rear are checkered with a very brisk pattern, aiding retention while firing. Being larger has its benefits: the gun’s size quelled some of the 9mm’s recoil. With an oversized safety and slide levers, groups with Winchester ammunition ran around 3.5 inches at 7 yards. I enjoyed shooting this gun.
We’ve only scratched the surface here—there are many other slim guns for concealed-carry available from manufacturers such as Glock, Beretta, Kimber, Sig Sauer and Springfield Armory. Before purchasing such a personal weapon, I urge you to check out a wide variety of these weapons at your gunshop or online.