Pat's Product Review: Smith & Wesson SD9

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2011

The first revolver I ever owned was a S&W Model 36, .38 Special 5-shot snub-nose. I remember getting it while visiting some relatives down in Kentucky - this was before the Gun Control Act of 1968, which made it impossible to purchase handguns in a state other than the one you reside in. You can now purchase handguns from a state other than the one you live, however, the transfer must go through a licensed FFL dealer in your own state, these days.  

As I recall, I wasn't a very good shot with that little S&W Model 36 snubby - I found the small grips didn't fit my hand properly, and promptly replaced them with a more hand-filling set of grips. However, I did use that little .38 Special during a home invasion once, back in Chicago. So, I guess I can't complain too much. Make no mistake, I'm a big fan of Smith & Wesson products - all of 'em, too. Over the years, I've probably owned more S&W handguns than any other brand, bar none.   I still remember purchasing a S&W Sigma in .40 S&W, that I used as a duty weapon when I was a police officer in a very rural Native Alaskan Village. The first Sigmas had suboptimal trigger pulls - long and very heavy. I quickly changed duty guns and was carrying a good ol' 1911 in .45 ACP. Still, the S&W Sigma showed promise.  

Over the years, S&W has made some upgrades to the original Sigma line-up. And, with each upgrade, the guns got a little bit better than the last ones. The newst "Sigma" is called the SD9, and in my humble opinion, this is what S&W should have come out with in the first place. Of course, there are usually some birthing pains associated with many newly designed guns. The SD9 stands for "Self-Defense 9mm" and I'm not about to take-up the age old debate about which caliber is better. In all my years writing about guns, I've managed to shy away from the debate of which is better, the 9mm or the .45 ACP or the .40 S&W. To be honest, no matter what caliber you decide to choose, it still comes down to shot placement. It doesn't matter what handgun or caliber you're carrying, if you fail to hit the target in a vital area, you won't stop the threat. So, please save your e-mails asking me which caliber is "best" - I don't think there is a best, simple as that. I have my preferences, just as many of you do. However, my preference doesn't mean my handgun or caliber is the final word.  

The SD9 (which is also available as the SD40 in .40 S&W) is a double-action only handgun - meaning, each pull of the trigger is the same for all shots. As with the Sigmas, I found that the SD9 sample I had, really smoothed up the trigger pull and removed a lot of the grittiness after firing several hundred rounds though my sample. If you are going to carry any handgun for self-defense, I always recommend to my students that they test their guns by firing at least 100-200 rounds of the ammo they prefer to carry, just to make sure the gun will function with that particular load. I'm not the world's biggest fan of DAO pistols, but I do carry 'em on many occasions - it's a training thing - and no matter what type of handgun you plan on carrying, you should train with it, until you are proficient enough to hit your target.   With 16+1 rounds of 9mm on-hand, the SD9 should be able to take care of most social problems you might encounter. And, the SD9 comes with a spare magazine - and you should always carry at least one spare magazine if you're packing a semi-auto handgun. Of course, for self-defense, you should load your handgun with JHP ammo. It makes for better stopping power, and it might avoid a lawsuit later on. (FMJ bullets tend to over-penetrate, and you don't want to have a bullet pass through and hit an innocent bystander.) So, by all means, stoke your carry piece with JHP, and reserve the FMJ for target practice.  

A 4" bbl, topped with a Tritium night sight on the front end of the slide is a nice touch. The rear sight on the SD9 is a combat type, with white dots - that are not Tritium loaded. I feel this set-up is really fast to pick-up in low-light conditions, too. The frame on the SD is textured polymer material, with a grip frame angle at an ergonomic 18-degrees - just about perfect if you ask me. The gun feels good in the hand - real good! There is also a Picatinny rail on the frame for mounting lights and/or lasers.

The SD9 weighs in at 25-oz according to my postal scale, so you can pack this gun all day long, without feeling loaded down with excess weight.   I found on the Sigma line-up, as well as the new SD9, that it is a real pain getting the last round or two loaded into brand-new magazines. However, after the mags have been fully loaded, and left that way for a couple of days, they were easier to get all the rounds into the mags. If you own a magazine loader, then use it.  

I fired a variety of 9mm ammo through the SD, to include Black Hills Ammunition, Winchester, and Buffalo Bore Ammunition and had zero malfunctions of any sort. When carrying a 9mm for self-defense, I feel comforted by +P loads. The Winchester white box 9mm ammo I tested was the 115 gr. FMJ loads - great for target practice and breaking-in a new gun. I tested several loads from Black Hills, including their 115 gr JHP, 124 gr JHP as well as +P loads in those calibers. Buffalo Bore Ammunition provided me with some of their +P+ 9mm fodder - and it really screams out of a 9mm handgun. However, the Buffalo Bore load is not for all types of 9mm pistols. I believe the BB load is safe in the SD9 for self-defense purposes - but I wouldn't recommend a steady diet of this +P+ load in any handgun - it's meant for self-defense and small game hunting - not for target practice. Once you know your 9mm handgun can handle this load, then stoke your mags with it, and you're good to go.

I like the Black Hills 124-gr JHP +P 9mm load, as I feel it gives a little extra deeper penetration. And, if the load you're carrying doesn't penetrate deep enough and expand, it's not gonna give you the stopping power you need for a self-defense situation. Winchester also provided me with a limited amount of their Supreme Elite Bonded PDX1 9mm 124-gr JHP Bonded load - which is specifically designed for self-defense.  

As I mentioned, I had zero malfunctions with any of the ammo tested, it all performed as advertised. And, I did some limited testing, shooting into water-filled plastic milk jugs - all the JHP loads penetrated through more than two jugs and usually stopped in the third jug, and expansion was great, too. It's not scientific testing, but still a good test of expansion and penetration just the same. I can't possible duplicate the testing these ammo companies do - so I trust their word on what they say the performance is from their loads.   One complaint I have with most new handgun designs is that, it's difficult to find a holster to properly fit the new guns. And, many mainstream holster companies won't jump on the bandwagon and make holsters specifically for new handguns, until they know the guns have caught on and are popular. With that said, I had to carry my SD9 in a ballistic nylon holster from Blackhawk Products. To be honest, there's nothing wrong with these generic-type holsters that fit a lot of different sized handguns. My only advice is to make sure when reholstering, is that, you don't get the carry strap caught between the trigger and the holster - if you do, you'll have an accidental discharge. So, please be careful when using ballistic Nylon holster from any maker. I'm sure, in the not too distant future, Blackhawk Products will have one of their Serpa molded holsters for the SD9.  

I'm always a sucker for a good deal on a gun, and in the case of the SD9 (or SD40) they are selling in for $450 to $500 if you shop around. That's a good deal in my book on a top-notch S&W handgun, with all the bells you need and none of the whistles you don't need. Besides, it's a Smith & Wesson. If you're on a budget, like me and so many others, you have to carefully watch where you spend your dollars on firearms. You don't want to buy junk - you want quality firearms you can depend on for survival. The SD9 won't let you down.  - SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Pat Cascio

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