Firing Line 11/98
S&W Sigma SW9M
I found your recent evaluation of the small 9mm pistols (September 1998 issue) interesting and would like to tell you about a unique problem I had with the Smith & Wesson SW9M.
First, I’m 62, an NRA certified small arms instructor, and have a Lifetime Masters classification for High Power Rifle competition. I have an FFL and a Texas concealed handgun license. I am an orthopedic surgeon and do not have a weak wrist or grip.
I thought that the SW9M would be the ideal self-defense weapon to carry in the console of my Explorer. I have a habit of test firing anything I am going to carry before making any out of town trip. I soon found that if I loaded the SW9M and fired it right away, it functioned well. If, however, it were left in the car for several days, I could not fire the first shot. The firing pin would dent the primer, but with insufficient force to fire the cartridge. If I worked the slide, ejected the first cartridge and pulled the trigger on the second round, it functioned well, as it did with each succeeding cartridge.
I sent the gun back to Smith & Wesson three times with the same complaint, but it was never rectified. They finally sent me a brand new gun. By that time, however, I had lost faith in it. The gun sits quietly in my gun safe at home.
I thought this might be interesting news to you. Smith & Wesson could never explain it. Have you ever heard of a similar problem with this weapon?
John F. McCluskey, Jr., MD
Dr. McCluskey: No, we haven’t heard of the problem you encountered, but we have found the Smith & Wesson SW9M’s functioning to be unreliable. We’d like to hear from other readers who have had a similar problem with the Sigma or any other polymer-frame pistol.
I enjoy reading your magazine, and always look forward to the next issue.
There is one thing I feel you could expand on. That is the bullet/ammo testing and the absolute rating you assign them. I feel that it could be misleading to an inexperienced handloader or hunter. The “best of the test” load leads one to believe that this load will handle all hunting requirements. This is just not so.
In my limited experience as a hunter (Texas whitetail & mostly handloaded .30-06), I have found that the most important thing is matching the bullet weight to the game. The Texas whitetail is not very large nor heavily muscled. In my experience, the 150-grain bullet is the most humane. I usually hunt from an elevated box blind with virtually all shots under 125 yards. The 150-grain bullets have always produced an instant knockdown with a slight twitching of the tail and no more. The few times I’ve used the 150’s at extended ranges, I got the same results. I have used heavier bullet weights (165 and 180) and did not care for the deer thrashing about and the occasional attempts to get up.
In my opinion, there is no one perfect load for any firearm. I have taken deer with all brands of bullets, some of which you have rated as mediocre that performed superbly for me. Assuming that the rifle is properly zeroed, a properly selected bullet weight with precise shot placement is all that’s needed for a clean kill. A little bit of common sense must be used in the selection of caliber and bullet construction. A load that does well with smallish Texas whitetail would probably result in wounded elk. The best elk load might allow a smaller animal to run away before it bleeds out. As far as deer hunting in North America is concerned, the non-reloading hunter will do well with ammo from his or her local discount store.
Experience in the field is paramount. When I first started to hunt, I was sometimes intimidated by the high-dollar equipment I saw at camp. The real story would come at the end of the day when some of the hunters would talk about the buck that fell but managed to escape. “Next time I’m bringing my Such & Such Magnum...” Guess what? A sloppy shot is a sloppy shot in any caliber!
It should be stressed that bullet weight also plays a very important role.
Mr. Barrientos: Your experience is probably greater than that of the average hunter, and your observations are unquestionably excellent. Not many are capable of seeing what actually goes on in the field, particularly after having taken a shot at a big game animal. Thank you for your interesting comments.