Grand Master USPSA Carry Optics Pistol Set-Up

My name is Hunter Constantine, and I am a professional competition shooter who achieved Grand Master in Carry Optics in 14 months. I have tried many different guns early on in my career, but I have settled on just one, with which I have taken large strides in my career. I mainly shoot practical shooting sports like USPSA, IDPA, PCSL, and other disciplines. 

To shine some brief light on the classification system in USPSA, it starts at D-Class and moves through the alphabet, C-Class, B-Class, and A-Class, then it goes to Master and Grand Master. Carry Optics is the fastest-growing division in the sport. 38.6% of competitors are shooting in that division. It is the most competitive division in USPSA and where you find the most top shooters.

This past September, 427 of the country’s best shooters battled it out for the National Title. I ended up placing 24th behind some very talented shooters. How many Grand Masters are there? A single-digit percentage statistic gets thrown around a lot, but the estimated number is 150-200 GM Carry Optic shooters in USPSA or something like 0.005%. I am here to share with you the gun I choose to compete with and why, along with offering some other popular options.

Smith and Wesson M&9 M2.0 

Mid-stage with the Smith and Wesson M&P9 M2.0.

I fell in love with the Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 the moment I got the first one, although I did not pick up and use it until three years after. This is one of the most popular guns in Law Enforcement and has been looked over in the Carry Optics Division since the fruition of the division. The tides are changing, and people are starting to recognize the gun’s potential.

Two main features of the gun stand out to me. The first is the ergonomics of the grip. Smith and Wesson designed the palm swell to fill out your hand so you can have maximum surface area contacting the gun. It has four different backstraps, so you can customize it to fit your hand. It also incorporates an updated textured grip that rivals aftermarket stippling. The texture is very aggressive, so the gun feels secure in your hands.

The second feature is the fire control group. The way Smith and Wesson designed this system allows it to be tuned to make, arguably, one of the best triggers you could ask for in a striker fire gun. I now own seven different variants of the Smith and Wesson M&P9 M2.0, including the new Competitor that is specifically made for competition and incorporates a new metal frame. 


In most of the practical shooting disciplines, they will allow you to modify your gun. The division will determine what modifications you can make. In Carry Optics, you can swap many parts as long your optic stays mounted to your frame, and your gun fits within the size and weight requirements for that discipline. Each discipline will have its rules about modifications, but for USPSA you can find all of the regulations in APPENDIX D7 in the 2021 rule book. 

Let’s discuss the modifications I’ve done on my Smith and Wesson M&P9 M2.0 to optimize it for the Carry Optics division. 

Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 handguns optimized for competition
Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0’s optimized for competition.

Trigger & Barrel

The trigger is at the heart of each gun. I am always looking for a clean, crisp break to get a repeatable trigger pull every time I break a shot. Smith and Wesson released an updated version of their trigger in 2022, but Apex Tactical takes the cake for perfecting it. The Apex Tactical Flat-Faced Enhanced Trigger allows you to tune the weight of the trigger ranging from 2-5 pounds, and it also shortens the trigger pull and the reset of the trigger. This results in a trigger that can hammer fast splits and is ideal for precision shooting. The best part about it is that it drops in, and no fitting is required. 

Another part from Apex tactical is their Apex Grade barrels. They make them for various guns and advertise sub-one-inch groups at 25 yards. I have put it to the test, and it does hold up. I have one barrel with over 70,000 rounds on it that can still shoot “same hole” groups.

Is the barrel a necessity? No, but when you fight for fractions of percentages in the top one percentile of shooters, I want every advantage I can get. These barrels require some fitting, but it will ensure your locking block is tight and is part of the engineering behind the increased accuracy. They have a 1:10 twist, ideal for pistol shooting and the application you’ll find in practical shooting. 

Apex Tactical Flat-Faced Enhanced Trigger
Apex Tactical Flat-Faced Enhanced Trigger & Apex Gunsmith Fit Apex Grade Barrel for Smith & Wesson.

Recoil Assembly

I shoot hand-loaded ammunition tuned to the minimum power required for Carry Optics in USPSA. This means there is less pressure operating my firearms. To improve the function of my gun, I run reduced-weight recoil springs, so it matches the ammunition I am shooting. I use the Carver Custom’s Tungsten Guide Rod that adds a few ounces of weight to the front of my gun. This helps controls the recoil by keeping the muzzle from “flipping” as violently. This guide rod paired with a 14 lb. spring makes for a very flat shooting gun. 

Magazine Release

Some firearms require you to break your grip to release the magazine. Installing an extended magazine release allows you to keep your grip while still being able to drop the magazine for reloads. This will get you back on your gun faster so you can engage targets quicker.

I run the Springer Precision Magazine Release. It is large enough to release the magazine without breaking the grip but not too big to get in the way while firing the gun. Finding the proper release is all about balance. If the release is too big, sometimes it will dig into your support hand, causing discomfort. 

Springer Precision Magazine Release.
Springer Precision magazine release.

Silicon Carbide 

Silicon carbide is a synthetic abrasive found on sandpaper, skateboard tape, etc. This is a way to get the most aggressive grip on your pistol. Almost all of my competition guns have Silicon Carbide on them. No matter how sweaty my hands are, how wet the environment is, or any other factors, my hands say secure on the gun. Monsoon Tactical in Ohio is behind most of my grip work on my guns. He is a true artist in creating smooth borders, seamless undercuts, and making the gun modifications look like factory components. 

Monsoon Tactical Silicon Carbide Grip Work.
Monsoon Tactical silicon carbide grip work.

Slide Cuts

Many guns come optic-ready from the factory, meaning you can install an electronic dot sight out of the box. I have some optic-ready guns but prefer to mill my slides for the specific optic I choose to run. I use Floyd Custom’s shop for my current slide cuts. This will ensure that my optic is securely on my slide. Generally speaking, a milled optic cut will be more secure than factory options. That being said, I’ve had little to no problems with my optic-ready guns. For the average shooter and competitor, the optic-ready guns won’t see the same abuse as a professional competition shooter. 

Magazine Extensions

In Carry Optics, you are allowed to have 140mm magazines. This means you can run a magazine extension on the bottom of your magazines for an increased capacity. I primarily run Taran Tactical +5/6 extensions. These always pass magazine checks at major matches and allow me to carry up to 23 rounds in a single magazine. I have customized some to allow 24 and even 25 rounds in a single magazine. This gives you a competitive advantage on the competition field. 

several Taran Tactical magazine extensions in various colors, stacked
Taran Tactical magazine extensions.


In competition, I like to run something with a larger window. The Trijicon SRO has been at the top of my list since its release. Holosun released their 507Comp at SHOT Show this year, and I am looking forward to trying it out. The larger window helps with target acquisition by allowing you to gather more visual data through your optic. At the end of the day, if your fundamentals are strong, you can use any size optic you’re comfortable with, but you’ll see most of the top competitors with larger window optics. 

The Ideal Carry Optics Gun

All of these modifications come together to make my ideal Carry Optics gun. It’s accurate, fast, and has won me countless titles over the last few years. The best part about the sport is you can shoot (to an extent) whatever you’d like. So if you’re a Glock guy, you can shoot a Glock. If you want a heavy gun, you can shoot a CZ.

At the end of the day, the Smith and Wessons are less popular than some other guns on the scene, but I encourage you to try them. If you ever see me at a match or range day, I encourage you to ask to shoot my guns! I am happy to show you the light.

Some other guns found in the Carry Optics division are the following: 

  • Glock 34 
  • Sig P320 
  • Walther PDP
  • CZ Shadow 2

Happy Shooting! Find a local match in your area to get your feet wet in competing. Comment down below what you shoot for Carry Optics! 

I am a professional competition shooter that travels the country sharing my knowledge, competing, and, most importantly, having fun. My love for firearms and the gear started at a young age but didn't come to fruition until later in life, in 2019. I have climbed the ranks in USPSA, achieving Grand Master classification in only 14 months. My educational background is in marketing, graduating with my MBA in 2017. At the end of the day I am someone who enjoys being on the range all day and being able to share that experience with other.

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