The rise in popularity of practical shooting sports has changed the landscape of gun ownership in a dramatic way. Manufacturers are being challenged to create new, better, easier-to-use guns that fit within the guidelines of competition rules. The results are guns that are useful well outside of the boundaries of matches though, providing us with reliable and incredibly easy-to-shoot firearms that are useful as duty guns, home defense guns, or for recreational shooting.
The GLOCK 34 and the Smith & Wesson M&P Pro Series rank among the most popular guns in practical pistol sports. A look at the Equipment Survey from the 2012 IDPA National Championship gives us a detailed look at what shooters were (and for the most part, still are) using: 33.5% of shooters at the match were using a GLOCK pistol, of those shooters 65.7% were using a GLOCK 34, that’s 22% of all the guns used in the match. 31.7% of shooters in the same match were using Smith & Wessons, of those, 67.6% were using M&Ps, that’s 20% of the shooters in the match. If we look at the M&P Pro specifically, the numbers narrow down further, with 9.5% of the match’s shooter using the M&P competition model.
The popularity of the GLOCK 34 and the Smith & Wesson M&P at a National level match like this show what experienced shooters who are looking for the best tool are using – and that same principle can be applied to shopping for other purposes. New and experienced shooters alike are looking for reliable, fun-to-shoot, easy-to-use firearms that they can keep on the nightstand or take to the range. The popularity of these firearms also means there is a lot of aftermarket availability for them, from sights and lasers to holsters and magazine basepads.
At SHOT Show 2013, Belgian gun manufacturer FN Herstal entered this arena with the release of their FNS-9 Longslide. The gun has spent the last year in the hands of some of the top competitors, and is slowly trickling into the public competition market.
We’ve had the opportunity to work with all three of the guns fairly extensively here at GunUp, and while everyone has their own opinions, it’s important to take a look at what each gun has to offer. Even if you’re not shopping right now, recognizing what the most popular firearms have to offer, and what another manufacturer has developed in response to those firearms, can educate us about what shooters are looking for.
GLOCK 34 Gen 4
There’s a lot to like about the GLOCK 34, which might explain its tremendous popularity. GLOCK guns are known for their reliability, and while any gun can fail, GLOCKs have run very well in all of our testing. Also, due to the popularity of the GLOCK brand, the 34 has wide aftermarket availability. If it’s made for competition, it can probably be found for the GLOCK 34, if it’s made for carry or home defense, it can probably be found for the GLOCK.
Also, because of the variety and similarity of GLOCK models, it’s possible to standardize across competition, carry, and home defense. Having the same controls across all uses simplifies training and helps develop good habits, so having these options available is important.
The GLOCK is also incredibly easy to break down and work on. Field stripping and cleaning the GLOCK, when necessary, is easy, and it’s also incredibly easy to find a gun smith who is well-versed in how the GLOCK works should any problems arise or if you need any assistance on upgrades.
We Don’t Like
We were less than impressed with the stock sights that come on the GLOCK 34. There are guards installed on either side of the sights that give the shooter limited peripheral vision, and can really mess up transitions between targets. While there is great aftermarket availability for sights, this frustration with the stock gun is hard to overlook.
There have also been a lot of complaints from shooters regarding the GLOCK’s ergonomics. We have found that the grip angle, while not the most comfortable, actually puts the shooter’s hand where it needs to be at the top of the backstrap. However, many shooters find this grip bulky and the angle unnatural.
M&P 9 Pro Series
Due to the popularity of the M&P line, the M&P 9 Pro Series has a lot of aftermarket availability. Sights, holster, and barrels are all readily available for M&P owners who wish to upgrade their guns. Also, similar to the GLOCK, the M&P line has a wide variety of different firearms, meaning that owners can use the same platform for a variety of purposes – from competition to carry – while still having the best tool for the job.
Another interesting note about cross-platform training and the M&P is that the grip angle is the same as a 1911, and the manual safety that is available is in the same spot. This makes the M&P an ideal striker-fired option for 1911 fans. This also makes the M&P the favored gun of the group ergonomically. Many shooters find it comfortable to hold and easy to get a good grip on.
While all three of the guns mentioned in this article have interchangeable backstraps, the M&Ps are by far the easiest to switch out. Like the GLOCK, the M&P is easy to field strip, clean, and work on, and gunsmiths who are familiar with the platform are easily found.
We Don’t Like
Some M&P barrels, especially in older models, have difficulty maintaining accuracy with some bullet weights. Hilton Yam of 10-8 Performance has done some detailed testing, and has a great write-up online at 10-8performance.com for those interested in learning more about which barrels perform well or poorly with what bullet weights. There are aftermarket barrels that perform much better than the stock barrels, which are also discussed in Hilton’s article, but having to buy an aftermarket barrel for a gun out of the gate does pose a problem.
While the M&P sights are, out of the box, far superior to those found on the GLOCK, the fiber optic on the front of the Pro Series has been known to fall out quite easily. While replacing a fiber optic is a quick fix, it is something potential buyers should be aware of.
The FNS, which came in later in the game, fixes a lot of the problems the M&P and the GLOCK have out of the box. Reliable, accurate, and even equipped with decent sights, the FNS has a better trigger and is lighter than the other two firearms.
Another thing the FNS has improved upon is the magwell. The stock gun comes with a slightly flared magwell, making it easier to reload than its counterparts.
We Don’t Like
The FNS is not only more difficult to find than the other two guns, but it also doesn’t have the aftermarket availability. While there are a growing number of holsters and sights available for this gun, it’s definitely still a work in progress, especially when compared to the wide availability of pieces for the GLOCK and M&P.
The FNS is also more difficult to work on than the GLOCK and M&P, down to field stripping and cleaning. While it may be worth the learning curve to some, it’s definitely a downside when purchasing for less experienced shooters who may just be trying to learn the basics.
There’s no right answer when it comes to choosing a firearm. Whether your shopping for competition, home defense, or just a recreational range gun personal preference is always going to come into play.
We have used and enjoy all three of these firearms, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of them to new or experienced shooters. Keep in mind what is important to you and what you’re looking for whenever you’re shopping or doing product research. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of specific brands, but important to keep an open mind and try any reliable brands to find what works for you individually.
Originally published in the November 2014 issue of GunUp the Magazine.