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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Specifications: Apex Tactical M&P Barrel Replacement
Twist Rate: 1:10
Material: Stainless Steel
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.