December 23, 2013
By Frank W. James
Many believe that "competition improves the breed." Certainly in terms of the action-oriented shooting sports, we have seen many features that were first introduced for competitive advantage that have continued on years later to become state-of-the-art for both duty and self-defense firearms. That is certainly the case for red-dot sighting systems on small arms; whether the red-dots are powered by batteries or a radioactive element like tritium.
Smith & Wesson recognizes this as it has introduced the "C.O.R.E." M&P pistol in the 'Pro Series' product line. It comes with a number of factory features designed from the beginning for use with a red-dot sighting system. Yet, even if you are not a competitive shooter, a handgun featuring a red-dot sighting system offers multiple advantages over the traditional iron sight system.
Presbyopia is a medical condition affecting eyesight that is usually found in people past the age of 40. It is characterized as one ages by the diminished ability to focus on near objects and often results in the need for reading glasses or bifocals.
The advantage with any red-dot sighting system for older shooters is the same as that found with a scoped rifle. The eye only has to focus on a single focal plane where the red-dot is superimposed over the target, which is the main focus.
There's no struggle with focusing on the front sight, then focusing on the rear sight for good sight alignment and then changing the focus to the target, however far away it may be. For young shooters, the lens in the eye flexes so easily that all of this is done without a conscious thought and many young shooters swear they can see all three sighting reference points simultaneously.
In fact, they just focus on each point in extremely rapid succession. Focusing on these three reference points is so fast, they don't even think about it and do it subconsciously. For older shooters, very seldom does it work that well.
Many shooters in their mid to late 60s absolutely must have some sort of optical sighting system to shoot accurately despite these optical deficiencies.
A pistol like the Smith & Wesson M&P 9 Pro Series C.O.R.E. is perfect for such shooters, whether or not they ever shoot competitively.
C.O.R.E. stands for "Competition Optic Ready Equipment". This Pro Series pistol comes with a slide already cut, just in front of the traditional rear sight, for the following optics; the Trijicon RMR, the Leupold Delta Point, the Jpoint, the Docter Optic, the Insight MRDS and the C-More STS.
It's equipped with traditional iron sights, but they are taller than normal to co-wtiness with the optical sight. This is an obvious attempt to build redundancy into the sighting system.
If for some reason the red dot fails or disappears, the shooter just naturally transitions to the iron sights. I found they were still a tad short on my sample, but more on that in a moment.
The iron sights themselves feature the usual trinity of three white dots; one on either side of the wide U-notch in the rear sight and a single white dot on the back of the tall front sight. Both the front and rear iron (a term used to denote traditional sights as opposed to optical and not meant to denote their metallurgy) sights are mounted to the slide using dovetail cuts.
The sample pistol featured the longer slide and 5-inch barrel. I requested it because I wanted to see just how the longer slide and barrel combination affected the balance of the gun compared to the standard Commander-length 41/4-inch barrel. I like the longer version better because of its balance and pointability, if I may use such a hokey term.
The M&P 9 comes with three different size palm swell grip sizes. Despite Madison Avenue advertising, one size does not fit all. It doesn't work in overshoes, panty-hose, or the grip area on handguns. This ability to fit the gun to your particular hand size is one that should be copied by all in the industry.
The Smith & Wesson C.O.R.E. Pro Series M&P 9 pistol is designed from the beginning for small red dot sights like the C-More STS unit shown mounted on the sample pistol.
The C.O.R.E. Pro Series has an empty weight of only 26 ounces and features a hinged trigger. It offers several features that will endear it to a wide range of shooters.
James chose the M&P 9L model with a 5-inch barrel. The standard M&P 9 features a Commander-length 41/4-inch barrel and is probably the choice for belt or concealed carry.
James likes the M&P's hinged trigger, in contrast to the central safety lever of other brands. He found it far easier to manipulate and more comfortable in extended firing.
Whether the barrel length is
5 or 41/4 inches, the M&P
uses a standard
The guide rod
did not come
all the way out
to the end of
James loves the three
different sized palm
swell backstraps for
the pistol. These
inserts allow the
consumer to fit
the grip to his
The M&P 9L features a visual inspection port at the rear of the chamber that allows the shooter to determine whether the chamber is loaded or not; it's required in several states.
James mounted the C-More STS sight directly to the slide to get it as low as possible, but its base was as tall as the rear sight, preventing the iron sights from co-witnessing.
The Action of the M&P
One area where I have to take Smith & Wesson to task is not with the gun itself, but with their promotional material describing this product. On their website they list the M&P 9 (and its .40 cal. alternative) as being "Striker Fire (double-action)" and the emphasis on the last is mine.
This design is not a double-action semi-auto. At no time during the trigger pull does the striker on the M&P 9 move into a cocked condition. The reason is because it is already cocked by action of the slide.
The striker on this design is in one of two conditions; fully cocked or fired and uncocked. On competitive designs there is a situation known as being pre-cocked, where the striker is partially cocked and pulling the trigger fully cocks the striker before the sear releases it. That's still a double-action trigger pull by my definition.
On the Smith & Wesson M&P design there is little to no cocking action achieved through manipulation of the trigger. The striker is cocked by action of the slide as the round is chambered.
Pure and simple, that's the classic definition of a single-action (again, emphasis added) semi-auto design. The gun is fully cocked before the shooter ever touches the trigger and to say otherwise is misleading.
The Gun Itself
Having established that, are aspects to this design that make it a pleasure to shoot. The first has to be the hinged trigger. Unlike several other designs that feature trigger safeties in the form of a vertical blade in the center of the trigger itself, the M&P features a hinged trigger without the center vertical blade.
This hinged trigger is far easier to manipulate and avoids the problem where the trigger finger can catch or pull the safety blade to one side as it is depressed, thereby throwing the resulting shot in the same direction as the off-center trigger pull. The trigger pull on the sample pistol broke consistently at 6.0 pounds over several tests.
The polymer frame means the M&P is lightweight for its size. It weighs only 26 ounces empty, and that means it's still easy to carry when the 9mm magazine is filled with 17 rounds or the .40 cal. is stuffed with 15.
The C-More STS Sight
I've known Ira Kay longer than either of us want to talk about, but he gladly sent me one of his STS pistol sights. Smith & Wesson supplied various mounting brackets in the packaging for the sample gun, but the STS sits a little tall, so I elected to mount the sight directly to the M&P slide without need of a mounting bracket.
It was still impossible to co-witness the iron sights with the red dot because the base of the STS sight was level with the top of the rear sight. You could guess where the aiming point was for the iron sights, but you can't actually see them through the STS scope lens.
The C-More STS sight weighs only 1.16 ounces with the 3-volt lithium (CR2032) battery installed, so it adds little to the overall weight of the package. It has a three-position intensity switch that needs to be turned on, but Kay claims it has a one-year battery life. I've left it on for several days and it still works, so as far I'm concerned it's good to go. There are two brightness levels and I found the first (or lower intensity level) was more than adequate for me even on the brightest of days.
The C-More STS is parallax-free and it uses anti-reflective coated glass. It has a positive locking system, but after I installed it and sighted it in, I found I couldn't fit the wrench between the back of the STS and the front of the rear sight on the M&P 9, so my aiming point on this particular STS unit remains unlocked.
You can select two red dot sizes: 3.5 moa and 7 moa. There's a protective sight cover with a loop at the front that can be used for a lanyard. Why a lanyard? In a concealed carry situation, a lanyard attached to the belt or holster will automatically remove the cover during the draw-stroke.
Shooting the M&P 9 C.O.R.E. and STS Sight
Quite simply, shooting a red-dot sighted handgun is fast. As you present the pistol to the target your eye automatically finds the dot. It is amazing how quick it is by comparison to traditional iron sights; especially those that are pure black and otherwise non-descript.
What I found was shooting falling plates with this gun was like eating really good potato chips: I didn't want to stop. I found I could shoot this combination just as well with my glasses off as I could with them on. (I'm farsighted and suffer from presbyopia, but my vision beyond a few feet is 20/20.)
As for shooting groups, one of the things I noticed with this sight combination is you really, I mean really, have to concentrate on your trigger pulls for one-hand bullseye type shooting. Why? Because that damn dot wiggles all over the place when you're trying your best to ventilate the X-ring one-handed. The whole experience certainly has a tendency to induce humility because you can see so easily what you're doing wrong.
The Smith & Wesson M&P 9 C.O.R.E. Pro-Series pistol was plainly developed for use in various handgun competitions, but the truth is it has applications far beyond the competition weekend and like the sights currently being used on rifles and carbines over in the sandbox, I'm sure this pistol and assorted sighting systems will lend themselves quite well to more serious applications when protecting life and limb.
The Smith & Wesson M&P 9 C.O.R.E. Pro-Series is available from Smith & Wesson, 2100 Roosevelt Ave. P.O. Box 2208, Dept. SGN, Springfield, MA 01104-1698, toll-free phone: 800-331-0852, website: www.smith-wesson.com and it has a MSRP of $729.