Smith & Wesson M&P C.O.R.E.

posted on September 2, 2015
Unlike other M&P variants, the C.O.R.E. features high-profile sights, which allow them to co-witness with certain red- dot optics.
Smith & Wesson’s M&P pistol has always been my pick for the most user-friendly, striker-fired pistol on the market. From the first time I wrapped my hand around the grips years ago, I was hooked on the pistol’s ergonomics. There were no sharp edges anywhere on the polymer frame that could cut or gouge skin. The closest thing to a sharp edge was on the accessory rail forward of the trigger guard, and I would describe those edges as “well-defined” rather than “sharp.” I believe it was also one of the first duty pistols with interchangeable backstraps, allowing the shooter to make the gun fit his or her hand. It was—and is—a gun designed to shoot rather than show off the skills of a gunsmith. I purchased an M&P when they were introduced, and the only reason I don’t still own it today is one of my daughters claimed it.

Over the years, there have been additional chamberings offered, plus compact versions and stretched competition models. Just recently, Smith & Wesson decided to configure the pistol for optics, and the company approached this change like it approached the original design of the M&P—designers thought about what features a variety of shooters might want. This relatively new model is the M&P Pro Series C.O.R.E. (Competition Optics Ready Equipment).

Aggressive texturing on the Palmswell grips keeps the pistol anchored firmly in the shooter’s hand.
Most folks know Smith & Wesson not only maintains professional shooters on staff, it also sponsors numerous matches around the country. The company gets constant feedback from both staff shooters and other competitors regarding what works and what doesn’t when it comes to reaching the victory circle. From all of these inputs, a line of handguns called the Pro Series has emerged. These guns bridge the gap between standard production guns and Performance Center products by adding competition-inspired features and specifications to stock factory firearms. We all know competitions are not the same as gunfights, yet only a crazy person would want to shoot it out with any top competitor.

If you’re thinking it’s no big deal to put optical sights on a competition pistol, you’re right—gunsmiths have been modifying pistols for more than three decades to accept these sights. What Smith & Wesson has done is offer a factory pistol delivered with a variety of mounting hardware to accept a half-dozen micro red-dot sights from as many manufacturers, while leaving the iron sights on the gun. If you can turn a screwdriver, you’ll be able to install your choice of tiny optic with ease on a factory model of a very popular handgun.

Despite its design to accept optics, the C.O.R.E. sports iron sights, which can serve in either the primary or backup roles.
The optic-mounting solution is quite simple, both in principal and in terms of manufacturing changes required at the plant. A flat surface about 1 7⁄8 inches long is cut into the top of the M&P slide, into which fits one of several mounting plates. Each plate is designed to accept a specific optic, and the C.O.R.E. comes with five different mounting plates from the factory. An additional cover plate fills the contour of the slide cut—should the shooter want to use only the iron sights—is also included. Currently optics compatible with the pistol are Trijicon’s RMR, the Leupold Delta Point, JP Enterprises’ JPoint, Docter red-dot sights, the C-More Systems STS and the EOTech/Insight Technology MRDS. An EOTech MRDS with a 3-MOA red dot was installed on the C.O.R.E. I received, but while Smith & Wesson provides the adapter plates with a new pistol, you will have to furnish the optic. My test gun was chambered in 9 mm and had a 4.25-inch barrel, but C.O.R.E. pistols are also available with either 4.25- or 5-inch barrels and chambered in either 9 mm or .40 S&W.

The iron sights on the C.O.R.E. are different from standard M&P-series pistols. Both the front and rear sights sit much higher above the slide, with the rear sight being thinner from front to back. The sights were not tall enough to be seen through the window above the MRDS’s housing, but they can be seen through the glass of the Leupold Delta Point and some of the other, smaller offerings. This is a subject of importance to someone new to pistol optics, and we’ll come back to it later. A change to the rear sight was dictated by the fact that the slide cut for the optic’s mounting base extended rearward into the rear sight dovetail cut on existing M&Ps. The dovetail iron sight cut on the C.O.R.E. was reduced in size, moved rearward on the slide, and a flat face was put on the front of the new, taller rear sight. With the optics removed, the slide can be cycled by pushing the rear sight against any reasonably firm surface, and with a red-dot sight installed, the C.O.R.E. can be cocked by pushing the large vertical front face of the optic against a firm surface. This is a nice survival feature on a defensive pistol, and while Smith & Wesson says the C.O.R.E. is a competition-ready pistol, the M&P is equally a fighting handgun.

Despite its design to accept optics, the C.O.R.E. sports iron sights, which can serve in either the primary or backup roles.
Most models of the M&P ship with three sizes of backstrap (called Palmswell Grips by Smith & Wesson), so the gun can be made to fit the shooter. The C.O.R.E. maintains this tradition, but the surface texture on the grips is considerably more aggressive. The rest of the grip frame, including the frontstrap, remains unchanged. It’s necessary to take a look at whether features inspired by competition can transition smoothly into the world of self-defense. If you limit your practice sessions to a sensible duration and round count, the greater control and faster recovery time between shots offered by the enhanced surface treatment looks like a plus. I wouldn’t rule out carrying the C.O.R.E. under a sport coat or vest, since the available optics are quite light and would be located above the belt and under the cover garment. Whether you can make a smooth presentation from concealed carry would depend on what you wear and how you carry.

Equipped with iron sights only, I like the high, flat front of the C.O.R.E. rear sight, since it allows the slide to be racked one-handed in the event of injury. In a properly designed holster, the higher sights pose no problem during the draw stroke. The three-white-dot system employed is not my favorite, but I can’t criticize the C.O.R.E. for these since they are the same sights on stock M&Ps and a number of other duty pistols.

The standard M&P trigger broke at 4 pounds.
The real concern is whether or not the C.O.R.E. is feasible as a fighting pistol with optics installed. Please keep two things in mind: First, my experience with the C.O.R.E. is limited to one optic: the EOTech installed on the test gun when it arrived. Second, I have 60 years of handgun iron-sight experience I must overcome when using the optic. Using a handgun equipped with optics, pistol alignment is critical. The red dot is inside the screen, and if the gun or optic is even slightly angled, the dot is not visible, and you have no idea whether it’s above, below, right or left of the small window. You must now “search” for the dot, and you have to guess the direction you should move the pistol. Both your eyes and your attention become focused inside the optic window looking for the red dot, losing track of what the threat is doing. Admittedly, it might only take a second or two to find the dot, but after that you have to return your attention to the threat and get your mind back in the fight; it’s a bad time for a distraction.

In a close-range encounter with a handgun, I find iron sights to be quicker. My opinion is shared by a couple of instructors who teach defensive-pistol skills rather than competitive shooting. However, things change as engagement ranges increase. It takes longer to make a good hit on a distant target with iron sights, and the red-dot optic makes precision hits easier and faster for most shooters. In competitive shooting, the pure-speed shoots and longer-range events are dominated by optics, but to my knowledge, none of these events require concealment.

Smith & Wesson chose to call the new optically equipped M&P a “competition-ready” pistol consistent with the fact that most of the input for the design came from competitive shooters. I don’t know whether or not the company has received any interest from police agencies regarding the use of optics on duty pistols. Certainly, the minimal size and weight of today’s red-dot optics don’t preclude the use of such accessories. And the fact Smith & Wesson is building the C.O.R.E. capability on both the duty-size 4.25-inch M&P as well as the longer 5-inch-barreled model suggests additional possibilities. Only time will tell whether or not the C.O.R.E. makes a dynamic intrusion into the police and self-defense market, but anything that makes us shoot better deserves a close look. Besides, what could be a more important competition than a gunfight?


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