While various trainers may or may not be able to teach, those who have “been there and done that” teach it best. Kyle Lamb is one of those guys. He is the real deal, and like most that are, he doesn’t need to brag about it. Kyle was a member of perhaps the most elite special forces: Delta Force. He has survived years of bad guys trying to kill him all over the world. He is retired now, runs Viking Tactics, and is one of the country’s top trainers for those who want to learn how to use their guns to defend themselves.
In a world where there are more and more guns hitting the market designed by people who don’t shoot, it might be smart to use the skills and experience of a guy like Kyle to design a fighting pistol. Smith & Wesson thought so, and they teamed up with Kyle Lamb and Viking Tactics to create the ultimate fighting handgun—the S&W M&P40 VTAC.
The Smith & Wesson M&P series represents some of the most successful striker-fired handguns on the market, and it’s the basis for the VTAC. The M&P40 VTAC has a distinctive, polymer Flat Dark Earth (FDE) frame and magazine bumper pads. The slide is finished with a PVD coating in a metallic style of the FDE color, creating a slightly different hue and pleasing contrast.
The trigger, slide release, takedown lever and sights are black. So are the slide end cap and the exposed chamber section of the barrel and the extractor. This makes for a very striking look. The VTAC is the kind of gun that invariably gets an initial “wow” response from anybody I show it to. The response is the same when it comes to ergonomics. When a shooter picks up the gun, they always comment about how good it feels. Like any well-designed firearm, it seems “alive” in your hands. It is well proportioned and well balanced. After carrying it for many days in recent weeks, I can also say that, with a weight of 24.25 ounces empty, it is comfortable on your belt, with no sharp edges to aggravate you.
The M&P40’s hinged trigger breaks at 6.5 pounds with a smooth and well-defined finish. As with all M&P pistols, there is a viewing window on the top of the slide to see if there is a round in the chamber. The cartridge is visible through this small port—you’ll see brass or nickel when the gun is loaded. I like this, as it eliminates the need for a press check.
The gun features Viking Tactics’ unique Warrior sights, which are different from any other sights on the market. Warrior sights have both fiber optics and night sights built into one system but separate from each other. The front sight is tall and the rear notch is deep—this is to accommodate the dual system. The long sight radius is easy to see and fast to acquire. Together, the Warrior sights create a three-dot, green fiber-optic system on top with another three-dot, tritium night sight system underneath. There is a lot of light on both sides of the front blade, and I found that I could acquire these sights very fast, even with my 50-something eyes.
The sights are tall, and the front sight is tapered to help draw your eye to the top of the sight. It’s wide at the bottom but narrow enough at the top for more precise shooting at long range than some other combat sights. The night sights show up well in the dark and only change the point of impact slightly—not enough to make a difference in a low-light, close-quarters situation. I tested this at the range and found that the difference in the point of impact at 10 yards between the fiber optic and night sights was only 2.5 inches. That’s irrelevant in a close-range gunfight.
The frame has a rail in front of the triggerguard. In fact, I tricked the pistol out with a Crimson Trace Lightguard light, which attaches to the rail and the triggerguard. I also added a Crimson Trace Lasergrip. It was now the ultimate carry and home-defense pistol, with three sighting options and the light. Best of all, the three sighting options are all available instantly and do not interfere with each other.
Smith & Wesson ships the M&P40 VTAC with three different-sized grip panels so that the grip can be adjusted to fit a wide range of hand sizes. I find that, with some striker-fired guns, the reach is too long to properly place my finger on the trigger, resulting in low-right impacts on the target (I am left-handed.) But the M&P40 VTAC’s medium grip panel fits me perfectly and places my finger correctly on the trigger. The grips can be easily swapped out by turning the half-moon-shaped piece behind the mag well 90 degrees and then pulling the “frame tool assembly” locking pin out. Change the grip panel, insert the pin, and turn it back in place to lock everything. It takes just about as long as it took you to read this to make the change.
The M&P40 VTAC is a sensible, simple design. It does not have a safety or magazine disconnect. The simplicity and safety of a striker-fired trigger system is all you need. The gun can’t fire unless the trigger is pulled—it’s simple and safe. This pistol is also extremely left-hander friendly. The slide release is ambidextrous, and the magazine release is reversible. Although, after more than four decades of working the magazine release with my left index finger, I left it alone on my own M&P40.
During some close-range, multiple-target speed drills from 5 to 12 yards, I amazed myself at how fast I could acquire and double-tap each target. I also used the pistol for several other drills geared toward defensive situations. One drill uses a spinning Texas star and a speed plate. This test works on transitions as well as tracking and hitting moving targets. It also requires some precision, as the moving plates on the star are only 8 inches in diameter. The drill is simple: From 15 yards, at the buzzer, draw from the holster and shoot the Texas star. Sometime between the first and last plate on the star, shoot the speed plate, which is set at 20 yards and is some distance to the side of the star, forcing the shooter to shift positions.
My best time ever was recorded with a 9mm with an optical sight, but I was only 0.4 seconds slower using the M&P40 VTAC. It was my fastest time with an open-sighted gun I’ve tried on this drill. That trend held up over the course of many shooting drills that followed. The gun’s shooter-friendly design and high-visibility sights allowed me to quickly transition between targets, easily track moving targets and make precision shots.
I’ve run about 500 rounds though this handgun. I experienced one failure to fire, but that was with ammo that uses hard “military-grade” primers and has also exhibited problems with several other .40 S&W guns, so I don’t consider it a gun problem. With all other ammo, the VTAC has been 100-percent reliable.
The M&P40 VTAC comes with two 15-round magazines. Smith & Wesson also offers the M&P9 VTAC version in 9mm with a 17+1 capacity, but it’s a no-brainer for me. While I shoot 9mm handguns a lot, I am from the school of thought that likes bigger holes in the things I shoot. And if those things are trying to kill me, the bigger the better. The .45 ACP is, of course, a good fight-stopper, but the ammo capacity is limited in the single-stack guns, while the high-capacity .45 ACP guns often have grip frames so large that my average-sized hands cannot hold them properly.
The disastrous Miami shootout in 1986 left two FBI agents dead and five wounded. Following that, the FBI embarked on a path that led to the creation of the .40 S&W cartridge, which I think provides the perfect compromise. The bullet is bigger and heavier than the 9mm and has a relatively high muzzle velocity to hit hard. The .40 S&W will match the energy of a .45 ACP and exceed the energy of the 9mm by a considerable margin. Yet the .40 S&W’s recoil is very controllable for follow-up shots. The M&P40 magazine holds 15 rounds, which is only two less than an M&P9 and five more than an M&P45.
For many years, I didn’t see the necessity for high-capacity magazines. But things are changing in the world. Today, we are not just faced with the possibility of one or two guys trying to rob us at the ATM. With terrorism and the increasing threat of social collapse due to man-made or natural disasters, I don’t think the idea of a higher-capacity magazine is flawed. If we carry the gun loaded with two spare magazines, this M&P40 VTAC will have 46 rounds at the ready. That’s a definite advantage.
I think there is one simple test for any gun that a writer reviews. What happens to the gun after the test? I send most of them back because I simply can’t afford to buy every gun I fall in love with and still pay the mortgage. But, with the S&W M&P40 VTAC, I see one of the best-designed and well-thought-out carry guns I have ever reviewed. I am going to add this one to my personal collection. Read into that what you may. For more information, visit smith-wesson.com or call 800-331-0852.