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Sunday, September 12, 2010

S&W's "Allied Forces" SW40VE

I recently acquired  a .40 S&W 'Sigma' in the ‘all-black 'Allied Forces’ configuration. The gun follows the 'VE' pattern and is about the size of a Glock 23. Smith & Wesson has a US Military contract for the 9mm version of this pistol, for disbursement to Afgan civil authorities. That contract was a  blessing to those of us who actually like the Sigma- but prefer an all-black pistol.

My introduction to these pistols came in late 1994, when I received a call to meet some other cops  to test-drive a new .40 caliber pistol. A nearby LE distributor hauled in a half-dozen Sigmas along with lots of ammo & spare magazines. We proceeded to shoot up his ammo and grin a lot. After a couple of magazines I was destroying Copenhagen cans out to about 20 paces. The Sigma's trigger reminded me of that found on Dan Wesson's DA revolvers; short, quick and all business. Our 'test' Sigmas chewed through nearly a case of ammo and never bobbled. For the first time in my life, I was becoming enamored with a rubber gun.

I thought the Sigma had potential, but S&W's good name was not enough to pry the LE market away from Glock. The Sigma suffered some early reliability problems; then came the Glock Lawsuit and those awful little 'Pocket Sigmas' in .380 and 9mm. Smith & Wesson busted their corporate hump and corrected these problems, but the 'Sigma Stigma' took hold and it still haunts an otherwise excellent carry gun. If you believe half the web prattle you read about the Sigma, you'd be inclined to rate them about three points above Bryco and two points under a good homemade slingshot.

So are the new guns better? I decided to find out. Through the good offices of Express Police Supply and Smith & Wesson themselves, I was able to obtain an Allied Forces SW40VE.

My trigger scale goes to eight pounds but judging from the readings, I'll call this one 9 1/2 pounds. This is consistent with  Jeff Quinn's 2004 Gunblast  Review of a SW9VE, and Jeff is a reliable source. A lot of people fuss about the Sigma’s ‘heavy’ trigger but it works in its intended role. Like a DA revolver, it is as safe for carry as any 'ready' handgun can be. A straight back press results in a surprise break; done consistently it produces good results. Do it inconsistently and you get fliers. There's not a pistol on the market that changes this absolute of marksmanship.

I took the 'Allied Forces' Sigma straight from its box, verified that the bore was clear and began pestering my Chief to head out to the range with me. Getting him to go to the range  is never much work, thank goodness. He’s gun savvy, he's an excellent shot, and he just flat likes to shoot.

The target below represents –
  • 10 shots in 35 seconds at 25 yards
  • 10 shots in 25 seconds at 15 yards
  • Three sets of double-taps in 4 seconds at 7 yards
  • Two bursts of three shots in three seconds at 7 yards, from ‘low ready’
  • Emergency Action Drill, ‘Interview’ Position at Six Feet. 3 shots from the hip, strong hand only; shift to weak hand for two more shots. Time: 4 seconds
All stages, except the low ready stage, are started from a locked down duty holster.

Anything inside the 8 ring counts for 5 points and 7’s count for 4 points; 185 are points possible. I shot a 182 'cold turkey' with this gun; maybe two points under what I do with a fullsize Glock. My Chief easily hit a 'post-it' note, practically every shot at ten yards. My wife shot it later that evening and chewed a 10-shot string into a baseball-sized group, at 15 paces. The 'heavy' Sigma trigger doesn't bother any experienced shooter, with good hand strength, who pays attention to marksmanship basics.

This pistol was shooting a little to the right, so I tapped the rear sight over and shot this five shot, 50 yard group with the Federal 165 grain HST load. I was basically sitting on a  small tractor and shooting over one knee, with my foot up on the dash, so it’s not the solidest platform. Still, I think we are getting some useful accuracy here. Four shots in a little over 3 ¼ inches, with a flier in the orange dot. Not bad for a DAO pistol derided all over the web as having the worst trigger on the planet.

And here's what standing, unsupported 25 yard groups look like after six months on the gun-

The SW40VE is reliable. As of March 2011, it has digested 1100 rounds of  assorted UMC 165  grain FMJ,  Blazer 165 grain FMJ, Federal 180 grain  FMJ & JHP, Federal 165 grain Golden Saber and HST (duty load), 165 grain JHP reloads and my junk-critter, lead SWC load that barely cycles most fullsize .40's. The VE is not particular. No break-in was allowed and none was needed. There were no malfunctions whatsoever. This is exactly as it should be.

So what, if any, advantages does the SW40VE have over the excellent Glock Model 23? 

  • For one, you get an extra round although it'd take an awful gunfight to need it.
  • Second, you get a trigger that is heavy enough for any sane carry mode, yet light enough to shoot well if you'll only practice with it.
  • Third, you get a grip angle that points naturally and dials the sights on target without conscious effort.
  • Fourth-and this is subjective-but I have noticed that this Sigma recoils less than the G23, with any given ammo. It is enough to notice and if you're a recoil-sensitive shooter, it just might be enough to matter.
  • And finally, you get a conventionally-rifled barrel with excellent chamber support. Frankly I like lead SWC's for all my non-duty or CCW uses and I wouldn't hesitate to employ them for defense if that's what was in the gun.

Are there disadvantages? Sure. Glock enjoys an amazing aftermarket support system that the Sigma will never have. The Sigma's trigger is 'harder'. Oh, and yes- people will make fun of you on the internet. Try not to cry too hard, will you? Or just tell them they're full of it and refer them here- to an actual shooting review of one.

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