[ED: In response to reader requests, this is part of a series of posts by TTAG writers revealing their choice of carry guns.]
I’ve been writing about guns longer than I’ve been carrying one so most of my “What I Carry” journey has been hashed out here over the last four years. I don’t have a fancy rocking chair, I don’t even own a 1911, and only recently did I buy a new truck. As it goes, my carry gun is utilitarian down to its core. Before I get to what I carry today, I think it might be fun to talk about what I don’t carry and why . . .
1911 (sort of)
Way, way back almost four years ago, I started the process of getting my CHL in the great state of Texas. At the bottom of that article, I remarked that I was going to ask Springfield to send me a 1911 for test and evaluation. That decision was based exclusively on the fact that I had shot a 1911 before. Within a day of that article posting, Farago called me and bemoaned my choice. “The 1911 is no good. No good at all. It requires so much practice and precision and you absolutely can’t mess up. And given how many handguns you’ll be testing for us, you can’t afford to be pinned down to one platform. You’ll learn to draw a GLOCK well, and then go back to the 1911 and you’ll have forgotten everything. No good at all” (at least thats how I remember it…and note that a 1911 is now his primary carry gun).
So with my hopes of 1911 glory dashed, I trundled off to KR Training for my very first pistol class. That was where Karl loaned me a M&P 9 outfitted with an Apex DCAEK trigger and a nice set of iron sights with a bright fiber optic front. I shot that pistol like a machine and fell thoroughly in love with the M&P series thanks to their svelte ergonomics and pleasantly mild recoil.
Figuring that 9 was good and .45 was better, I called up Smith & Wesson and wrangled a M&P 45C for a review. I had heard that the stock trigger was bad on the guns, but I just wasn’t ready for just how bad. It was awful. Straight up terrible. The worst. I knew then why the KR M&P 9 I’d used had a kit from Apex. But I made do and schlepped the M&P 45C around for a month or two, blissfully content and feeling great about my new CHL.
XD(M) 3.8 Compact – 9mm
On a whim and with a couple hundred extra samolians rattling around in my pockets one day, I bought a Springfield XD(M). Then I went to the range and shot it for the first time against my then-carry piece, the M&P 45C. I promptly returned home and penned a Dear John letter to .45 ACP to let it down easy.
The reason was simple. I shot circles around myself with the XD(M) in 9mm, a gun I’d literally never fired before. So the stage was set. I was a 9mm man, and how. Anybody who would listen would hear tell of my prowess with an XD(M) in parabellum. The accuracy. The trigger. The speed. The lack of recoil. It had it all. The only thing it had that it didn’t need was weight. That pistol was heavy. And getting people to make holsters for it was hard. But I soldiered on, carrying it regularly…with two brief flings.
This was a pistol that Nick had gotten during his time on Team FNS, but given his ties to the team, it presented a conflict of interest for him to write a review. So he handed it over to me with a case of ammo and told me to go nuts. And nuts I went.
In my review, I praised the trigger, the ergos, the stippling, and the accuracy. I loved it so much that when it came time for me to run the Pecos Run ‘n Gun for the first time, I picked the FNS as my go-to gun. But the gun that had reliably run in Nick’s and my hands for literally thousands of rounds failed numerous times during the race. I came home and shot the gun extensively without ever replicating the failure, but my confidence in it as a carry piece was shattered. Back in the safe it went.
Around the same time of my FNS failures and Farago moving to Texas, he called me and said, “You really need a GLOCK.” So after a little horse trading, I picked up a well-worn GLOCK 19. The GLOCK did GLOCK(y) things like eat everything, want for nothing, and make holster makers’ lives easier. It was ubiquitous, bland, boring, square, accurate, and reliable. Translation, it was everything I’d ever wanted in a carry gun.
The problem of course is that the GLOCK is made for normal people hands. I do not have normal people hands. I have small hands. I buy my nitrile gloves in medium because I’m too embarrassed to ask where the smalls are. That’s why I’d loved the M&P, the XD(M), and the FNS so much. They allowed me to get a confidence-inspiring grip on my pistol. The GLOCK? Notsomuch.
I still have it because it shoots well, it’s a great gun for beginners, and EVERYONE makes a holster for it. But my search continued, and in the interim, I went back to the XD(M).
XD(M) 4.5 – 9 mm
Figuring that if a little was good, a lot must be much better, I went whole hog and got the big boy XD(M). And then I carried it. Suddenly, all that weight didn’t matter because I had 20(!!) rounds with me. Enough ammo to stop an onslaught of baddies. Hell, with two spare mags on deck, my only worries were stepping off a dock as I’d surely drown under all that weight.
But then the worst happened. I had a failure under stress. I documented it fully in my review, but suffice to say, the gun was fine. The operator? Notsomuch. Due to a high grip I’d taught myself (idiot!), I’d inadvertently started engaging the slide stop. And badly. During the pistol stage at the Bushnell Brawl where I should have picked up dozens of points, I battled a gun that kept locking open every few shots. That wasn’t necessarily a gun problem, but it destroyed my confidence in my ability to shoot that gun well.
M&P 9 – RDS
Much like my XD(M) and M&P 45 comparison years prior, I took my RDS-equipped M&P 9 to the range and shot it back-to-back with the XD(M) 4.5. Hard as I tried, the XD(M) and I still couldn’t get along. The M&P 9, though, ran like a top. I’d forgotten how much I loved the red dot, and how much I loved the M&P platform. It certainly wasn’t as accurate as the XD(m) from the bench. But it ran great and hit minute of bad guy without fail.
The M&P 9 with the red dot had come equipped with Apex’s Competition Trigger Kit which was a touch light. And when Apex had machined the mount for that slide, they hadn’t done a rear dovetail so it didn’t have backup irons. I dutifully carried that gun for months, but the creeping dread that the RDS wouldn’t work when I needed it to, or that I’d blow through the light trigger under stress kept me awake at night. So I sent the gun back to Apex to address those issues, and that’s where it sits at the time of this writing.
Which brings me to my EDC today. Its a M&P 9. It’s really similar to the one I shot all those years ago at KR Training. It has three additions to the stock gun. The first, an APEX DCAEK kit which fixed up the trigger real nice like. The stock M&P trigger has gotten better since that M&P 45C all those years ago, but the Apex trigger it still a big step up. I also ditched the stock sights in favor of a set of very bright, very crisp Trijicon night sights. The last mod was more of a personal preference than anything. I swapped out the mag release for one from LF Arms. I liked the stock release, but the LF unit allows me the flexibility to drop a mag with my thumb or with my middle finger, a practice I’ve been trying out more and more.
At the moment, the only other thing I’d possibly change would be a slight undercut on the trigger guard to relieve the pressure that causes some GLOCK knuckle during extended range sessions. I’d also prefer a touch more grippiness which I might fix with some skateboard tape, or by sending it to a professional to stipple.
For me, the M&P 9 is the perfect EDC pistol (for right now). It has taken me four years to come to a conclusion that my very professional and competent instructor Karl Rehn suggested at the beginning of my journey. Some people are really open to ideas like that. Some people are descended from a few hundred years of German and Irish ancestry and can’t possibly deal with the informed opinions of others, preferring to make the long and expensive journey to the same destination on their own.
My M&P 9 isn’t stock, it isn’t pretty, and it wasn’t the first or second gun I ever picked up. I had to learn a lot of lessons the hard way, but after four years, this is the gun I’ve settled on. It runs like a Toyota, eating everything I’ve ever thrown at it. It runs wet, it runs dry, it runs dirty, it runs clean. It shoots accurately enough for my needs. I’ll never win a bar bet by hitting clay disks at 100 yards with it, but it punches holes in torso-sized targets at 7-10 yards no matter how hard I run it or myself.
It carries 17+1 and is easy to get a grip on. When I carry in the appendix position with the right holster, it all but disappears under everything but a light, clingy T-shirt. And if I print a bit, who really cares? Most of the people passing me in the grocery store, the gas station, and the street are so buried in their phones that I doubt they’d notice me waving a pistol in their face. I’ll take my chances with a member of MDA calling the 5-0 on a well-dressed member of the public with a funny bump under his shirt in exchange for a full sized carry gun that runs all the time, presents a great grip, and shoots lights out in my hands. Your mileage and journey might vary. Considerably.