Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sweet Carryin’ 9s Part IV – The Smith & Wesson CS9 (Chief’s Special 9mm)

The CS9 was introduced in 1998 in a matte blue finish with an aluminum alloy framed model with a Stainless Steel slide following early in 1999. This is obviously marketed toward those with a carry permit as a slick little concealed pistol. To further hammer this home Smith & Wesson gave it the moniker of Chief’s Special 9 to mirror the J-framed revolvers that first sprang to life in the mid 1950’s under the name of Chief’s Special. These little J-frame Smith & Wesson revolvers have been and continue to be considered one of the best choices available for a concealed carry handgun.
I was not looking for this pistol when the opportunity to purchase was presented. I have never been much of a fan of Smith & Wesson’s semi-auto pistols. However this one was sitting used, but unfired, in a local gun shop’s case and the $349.00 price tag called out to me. That was in the early Spring and I have not looked back since.
Let’s look at the published specs:
Model: CS9 Caliber: 9mm
Capacity: 7+1 Rounds
Barrel Length: 3"
Front Sight: Dot Front
Sight Rear Sight: Novak Lo Mount Carry
Grip: Rubber Grips
External Safety: Standard Smith & Wesson Decocker and Safety
Frame: Small
Finish: Matte Overall
Length: 6 1/4"
Material: Alloy
Weight Empty: 20 oz.

This grip frame almost feels too short in my hands, although once you start shooting this concern is alleviated. Surprisingly the CS9 is the lightest of the pistols reviewed in this series at 20 ounces coming in at a scant 2.3 ounces less than the polymer Walther PPS. It also was the only one of the series where I noticed appreciably more recoil when firing, but not enough to affect shot placement (this pistol was remarkably accurate—more on that later). While the slide is the second thinnest of the pistols we have looked at the last three weeks (.93 inches versus the .91 inches of the Walther PPS) the grip the fairly wide at 1.27” compared to PPS at .91” which was the thinnest and the SIG P239 which was the widest at 1.4 inches. The Hogue rubber wrap around grips add the extra width to the frame but despite it being a little wider than I would prefer, I think the rubber grips are best left on the pistol. When a pistol works this well it is best not to monkey around with it. I would prefer some checkering on the front strap, but I have to realize that due to the width and the secure grasp provided by the Hogue grips the pistol really does not move during recoil.

The CS9 is a Traditional Double Action pistol (TDA) meaning that the first round is fired with a longer heavier double action pull and subsequent shots are fired in the single action mode once the first double action pull retracted the slide, cocks the hammer and chambers the next round. That first double action pull was the heaviest of the quartet examined in this series coming in at 7.6 pounds, however that first DA pull landed the shots with the same accuracy as the single action follow-up shots. The subsequent single action shots have an average trigger pull of 4 pounds. In keeping with the concealed carry purpose of the CS9 the hammer has been bobbed meaning that the hammer spur was left off of the design so that the hammer rests flush with the rear of the slide.
On both sides of the slide is the standard Smith & Wesson decocker and safety that Smith designed in the mid 1950’s for their first modern semi-automatic pistol, the model 39. Having cut my semi-automatic teeth on the Colt Model 1911, having this lever on the slide rather than the frame seems a little awkward to me. When I grab the slide to retract it and chamber the first round I am expecting to just grasp the slide grooves but then I run into the decocking/safety lever. Up to today I have seen this as a hindrance however during this morning’s range session I realized that as my thumb and fore finger hit the lever it actually provided a pretty secure grasp and gave me a little more leverage to pull the slide to the rear. I’m sure that this will become second nature the more I shoot the pistol and I will cease to even notice it. I have seen warnings written by another gun writer that when retracting the slide some people have reported that they inadvertently engaged the decocker/safety without realizing it causing the pistol not to fire when they attempted to pull the trigger. I have not encountered this in the 1000 rounds I have put through this pistol but it is better to be aware so that it does not happen to you.
The Novak low mount rear sight comes with the standard two dots along with corresponding dot on the front sight. They provide a very good sight picture however, at the risk of sounding like a broken record; I feel that every defensive pistol would be best served with a set of night sights.
Let’s see how she shoots:
All targets fired for distance were shot with Remington UMC 115 grain JHP ammo:
21 Feet:

31 Feet:
40 and 50 Feet:
75 Feet:
All defensive ammo fired at a range of 21 feet:
5 rounds of Buffalo Bore 115 grain JHP +P
5 rounds of Speer Gold Dot 124 grain Hollow Point
I really like this pistol quite a bit. This has been a tough assignment to pick one of these pistols as the “best of breed”. Of the four I prefer the SIG P239 the least for the intended purpose of concealed carry as it is the largest and bulkiest. The other three tie all are within a hair’s breadth in terms of size and all are surprisingly good shooters with the CS9 and PDA probably taking top honors in terms of accuracy. For concealment you can’t go wrong with either of the three.