IMG_4282

Years ago, I shot an M&P9 with an Apex trigger and fell in love. As I detailed in our “What I Carry” series, it was a long strange trip to get to my EDC gun, but I eventually ended up right back where I started – with a full-size M&P9. While it’s a proven, solid, reliable platform, if you listen to the conventional wisdom freely available on the internet, the M&P has two primary problems: its trigger and its lack of accuracy.

As for the trigger, put M&P’s with stock and modified triggers in the hands of any shooter and the gritty, awful garbage that Smith ships with the (now) 1.0 version of the and you’ll see the difference between good and much better. No surprise then that all my M&Ps wear Apex Tactical triggers.

img_5280

As for, accuracy, say what you will about GLOCKs, but I’ve found them to be more mechanically accurate than any M&P I’ve ever picked up. That’s not to say that I shoot a GLOCK better. Quite the opposite in fact. I can usually shoot circles around my GLOCK-equipped self with an M&P – which is why it rides in my holster every day.

All that said, there’s room for improvement, and short of doing a lot of work to the gun in a labor intensive (read: expensive) fashion, the barrel is the best place to start.

img_5285

Apex Tactical is a small company led by founder, Randy Lee, and gunsmith, engineer, and whiz-kid Scott Folk. Randy and Scott are accomplished competitive shooters in both the revolver and semi auto disciplines. Randy started shooting USPSA in 1986 and then joined up with ICORE in 1999. As an indication of how long Randy has been shooting competitively, he still remembers when Southern California was the epicenter of competitive pistol shooting.

As part of his revolver experience, he started tinkering with the limits of durability in titanium revolver cylinders and successfully started running 3 lb double action revolvers, a practice he’s maintained for the last eight years. When the 1911 started to gain a big following in competitive shooting circles, he started doing work on those pistols which inevitably led to a customer coming by with an early M&P with complaints of trigger issues.

img_5277

Randy made a prototype sear that dropped the trigger pull to four pounds and cleaned up the feel a bit. The guy liked it so Apex made a couple more. At the time, there wasn’t much aftermarket support for the M&P so a trigger fix was a hot item.

They sold out of their first batch of sears overnight on December 23, 2009. He told me that he remembers that date specifically because he woke up on Christmas Eve morning to find out that they were all out. That run on the first batch gave them enough money to make the second batch (sold in 17 hours) and they were off and running.

img_5288

It was nearly a year later that they first identified an accuracy problem related to the M&P barrel and started working on a fix. After many years of development work, testing, and further refinement, they launched their line of barrels at the end of 2015. I got in line to have my RDS-equipped M&P sent in for a full spa treatment including new barrel and a few other items that had been on my wish list.

img_5289

Apex offers two fitment styles of their barrel along with a variety of lengths for the standard and long slide models as well as threaded and standard muzzles. As the tolerances among M&Ps vary wildly, Apex offers a “drop in” fit and a “gunsmith” fit. Both come with clear instructions on how to fit everything together. As I am not a glutton for punishment, I opted to have Apex install and fit my barrel in addition to the variety of other work that got done at the same time.

img_5287

My pistol returned to me in late February and I took the opportunity to run several hundred rounds through it while switching back and forth between the new Apex barrel and the stock barrel as I went. During the fist fifty rounds with the new barrel, the slide required a bit of a tap to go into battery during fully loaded magazine reloads. According to Apex, this is normal on a tightly fitted barrel, and after it wore in, I never saw the issue again.

img_5283

Though I was pleased with how the pistol shot, I held off on writing up my review until I could take it to Pecos for the annual Run n Gun. I’ve found that Pecos is a special sort of hell for gear and guns, and if there was anywhere that I anticipated a tightly fitted barrel would fail, it was there. Several miles later, and two low crawls that absolutely buried the gun in silty sand, every single round lit off without a hitch. My red dot sight however didn’t fare as well, but that’s fodder for another article.

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-7-33-43-am

Reliability doesn’t mean much if the barrel doesn’t make the pistol more accurate and I have to say that I was really impressed with the improvement I saw. Though I was a good gun writer this year, Santa still didn’t bring me a Ransom Rest for pistol testing. However, Apex was nice enough to strap my gun in theirs and send over the targets. Above is my stock barrel which held 4.3 inches for five shots of 115 gr Fiocchi JHP at twenty five yards. Serviceable, but definitely plenty of room for improvement.

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-7-33-27-am

Fitment of an Apex barrel brought that group down to sub inch, right at .782 inches. Not content to publish a manufacturer’s data, I set out to shoot a couple targets of my own to ensure that they weren’t pulling my leg.

stock-barrel-115-gr-standing-10-yards

Above is a 10 yard, five shot group using Fiocchi 115 gr FMJ shot from an isosceles stance. I shot several just like this with a variety of 115 gr loads and 147 gr loads. Call it roughly 2.5 inches across the board. Again, serviceable, but not great.

apex-barrel-115-gr-standing-10-yards

Switching to the Apex barrel brought my ten yard, five shot groups down into the 1 – 1.5″ range. And after seeing the Ransom Rest results, I can guarantee you that any error at that distance is shooter related.

img_5284

Specifications: Apex Tactical M&P Barrel Replacement

Twist Rate: 1:10
Material: Stainless Steel
Threading: Optional
Length: 4.25″ or 5″
Installation: Gunsmithing or drop in with minor fitting
Price: $199.95 as tested – $259.95 for threading

Ratings (out of five stars):

Fit, Finish, Build Quality * * * * 
It’s hard to get too excited about pistol barrels, but this one was shiny and clean with no imperfections to be seen or felt. As I’d had Apex do the fitment, lockup was extremely tight until the gun broke in during the first fifty rounds. I’m not a fan of the lettering on the side of the barrel, but that’s a fairly minor gripe.

Accuracy * * * * *
The M&Ps have a well deserved reputation of having garbage triggers and “meh” accuracy out of the box. The hope of course is that Smith & Wesson fixes that with the 2.0 version, but in case they don’t, this barrel has the fix for what ails you as it’s compatible with both version 1.0 and 2.0. It shrunk my groups dramatically and in a Ransom Rest turned a 4+ inch shooter into a sub inch shooter at 25 yards. My new favorite game is shooting steel IPSC torsos at 100 yards offhand.

Reliability * * * * *
Pecos Run n Gun has killed more rifles and pistols than I care to count. This one went through hell and came out on the other side running like a sewing machine.

Overall Rating * * * * *
If you’re looking to improve your M&P’s accuracy, the Apex barrel is a great way to get there. At $200+ it’s a bit spendy, but it does everything you’d expect a precision barrel to do. It reduces group size without compromising reliability and that’s all you can really ask for.

24 Responses to Gear Review: Apex Tactical M&P Barrel

  1. What exactly is the root cause of mediocre accuracy that is typical of the M&P semi-auto handgun platform? And is that typical of all the calibers (9mm, .357 Sig, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP)?

    • Wondered that also, the fitment on the ones I’ve handled haven’t seemed sloppy at all. Except for the trigger I would’ve bought one actually.

      $200 seems like a bargain for such an improvement btw. Nice review!

    • I’ll take a guess and say barrel lockup and/or the barrel crown. Locked breech designs by nature need wiggle room in order for the barrel to move and tilt, and still function when dirty.

  2. It’s nice that when you finally destroy your manufacturers barrel there are nice replacements available. Apex has a good rep and I’d definitely check them out.

    Since it was mentioned…triggers on the other hand… maybe I’ve just never experienced a “nice” trigger and thereby become spoiled, but if I ever picked up a gun and thought “Wow, this trigger is dogshit” I simply wouldn’t buy the gun. At that point I wonder what else the manufacturer fucked up.

    The same goes for just about any other major piece of the thing. I picked up and M&P AR a few years back because some guy was raving about how great it was. The upper and the lower mated together about as if they’d been machined by a drunken and retarded toddler that got a hold of daddy’s angle grinder. The wobble was…. amazing. While I didn’t take any tools to it I would wager I could move that the upper a good 3-5° right to left or vice versa. I could move the sights around in my field of view (up and down too) by wiggling the foreend of the rifle. IMHO a POS and not worth buying. Honestly I’ve not looked at an S&W product since. Not because that experience turned me off, just haven’t seen anything they offer than interested me.

    • Quick, hide the picture of the pistol with the object in the trigger guard before Michael in Ga. has a stroke! ?

      • In regards to Apex Tactical, I dropped a Apex flat face action enhancement trigger in my Sig p320 compact when they became available and couldn’t have been happier with the end result. YMMV.

        • That argument was airtight. LOL. I stand by it.

          “but they can fit more pistols in the photo that way!”

          17.98% more to be exact. Now, if they changed the angle the photograph was taken at by…

    • It’s the timing of the barrel lockup/unlock that causes the accuracy problems. Apex figured it out and fixed it. It’s apparent on all of them but not sure about the new 2.0 version.

  3. I can forgive the manufacturer of a “cheap” firearm if its trigger is not very good and/or its barrel is even worse. Has Smith & Wesson somehow fallen into the realm of a Rohm RG – or are they now simply trading on the iconic S & W reputation as a quality handgun worth the price of one? If a small company like Apex can invest in the research necessary to improve both the trigger and barrel of the M&P, should not S & W have done this with their vastly greater resources before offering the firearm for sale? I for one am not inclined to pay a premium price for a handgun only to need to invest another $200 to get it to be the way it should have been in the first place.

    • Mike Betts,

      I have to wonder if Smith and Wesson simply prioritized reliable function over accuracy. I support that position if their handguns end up being ultra-reliable and still able to shoot a 4 inch group at 25 yards.

      For reference I have shot a LOT of rounds through my M&P40 and cannot recall a single malfunction with factory ammunition. Even more significant, I am able to put over 85% of my rounds into a human torso sized target at 30 feet while moving and shooting. I consider that entirely acceptable combat accuracy.

      • I have to agree with you uncommon_sense about being a workhorse. I have put a LOT of hand loads through my M&P 40 and is more accurate with the LSWCs than the JHPs. The only problems I have had were one bad batch of primers that the seller replaced and me setting the primers too deep on some very early batches. My claim is takes everything I feed it and asks for more. As for 40 S&W being snappy CCDWGuy, There are some better loads out there that will help with that if you choose to try 40s again. I’ve noticed some of the departments that still carry 40s have moved away from the 180 grain to a 165 grain. It gives a little faster velocity and less muzzle jump. Somewhat more controllable. BTW Tyler. good article. I will probably consider an APEX barrel when this one needs upgrading.

  4. I installed an Apex Duty/Carry Action Enhancement Kit on my M&P 40c and never looked back. Then I installed a “match grade” aftermarket barrel (not Apex) and went back, but fast, to the factory pipe.

    With the Apex kit and factory barrel, I can write my name or draw a happy face on paper at 7 yards.

  5. My full size M&P 9mm is for home protection. My goal is center mass at 19 feet from behind the bed in the master bedroom to the door if someone is trying to break in the house. It is totally adequate for that in it’s original condition. It has a laser and a light and at 25 feet at that range will do the job I need it to accomplish. While I appreciate small groups at 25 yards it’s not how my M&P is going to be used and as long as I perforate an intruder at that range I don’t need to mess with it.

    • Yeah. Humans don’t come with bullseyes on them. You’re as likely to hit exactly where you aimed and miss a vital as miss your target by a couple inches and hit a vital.

      • And I figure 17 rounds and an extra mag should take care of the threat. Had the house alarm go off once and called the local police and told them we were in the bedroom and that I was armed. They came and walked around the perimeter of the house and the dispatcher called to ask if I wanted to talk to the officers. I said yes and she said leave your gun in the bedroom. Not a problem as I heard them outside the house in the snow.

    • CCDWGuy,

      +1.

      That is basically what I said above. My M&P40 exhibits totally acceptable combat accuracy and it has never malfunctioned. I’ll take a slight ding on accuracy in exchange for apparently perfect reliability in a combat handgun.

      Speaking of the M&P40 as a “combat” handgun, that would be consistent with those letters in the model designation “M” for military and “P” for police.

  6. So if you add the price of the barrel, trigger & gunsmithing to the M&P, what else could you (or would you) buy instead?

    Yes, I’m too lazy to do the math & research myself……..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *