The Battle of the Subcompacts: S&W Shield Plus vs. Springfield Hellcat

The Smith & Wesson M&P Shield Plus and the Springfield Armory Hellcat are two of the most popular choices for concealed carry pistols on the market today. One is based on a legacy platform, while the other was new from scratch. Both offer increased capacity in a micro-compact size, making them easy to conceal while still providing ample firepower. However, there are some key differences between the two worth examining when deciding which is better for your needs.

Smith & Wesson’s Shield Plus takes everything fans love about the original Shield and adds an upgraded trigger, more tactile grip, and larger capacity.

Now, in fairness, the Shield Plus is newer than the Hellcat and is a second generation of an existing platform with a few important changes. But those changes are key. And the Hellcat came along before the updated Shield version, so Springfield got the jump on the capacity game before Smith & Wesson jumped in. It could even be argued that the Shield Plus is Smith & Wesson’s answer to Springfield’s higher capacity shot across the industry’s bow, similar to how Sig Sauer taunted the low-capacity subcompact world with the P365. Baseline set, let’s dive in.

Before we get too far, let’s establish that we’re talking about the original Hellcat, not the fancied-up RDP or Pro versions. Those are too different.

At the time the Hellcat was introduced, it had the largest capacity of any subcompact handgun on the market. It’s since been surpassed but is still a formidable opponent in a gunfight requiring lots of rounds.

Size & Capacity

The Shield Plus holds 13+1 rounds of 9mm ammunition, while the Hellcat holds 11+1 rounds of 9mm with its standard magazine. However, the Hellcat also offers a 13-round extended magazine for added capacity. So, with the extended magazine, the Hellcat matches the Shield Plus in capacity. 

As for size, the Shield Plus measures 6.1 inches long with a 3.1-inch barrel. It stands 4.3 inches tall and 1.1 inches wide. The Hellcat is slightly more compact at 6 inches long with a 3-inch barrel. It is 4 inches tall and 1 inch wide. So, while both pistols are micro-compacts, the Hellcat is smaller and easier to conceal by just a smidge. Will it make that much real-life difference? No. Both guns are easily hidden.

Weight 

Thanks to its smaller size, the Springfield Hellcat is slightly lighter at 18.3 ounces unloaded compared to the Shield Plus at 20 ounces unloaded. Practically speaking, the difference is negligible. Once loaded, the weight will depend more on ammunition than the empty firearms.

Concealability

The petite size and flush-fitting magazines on both pistols make them easy to conceal. The Hellcat is the smaller of the two, but the Shield Plus is still very compact. With the right holster and clothing, both can easily disappear under clothes.

The Shield Plus is just a tad slimmer, but both the Shield Plus and Hellcat are easy to conceal, making them ideal carry guns.

The Hellcat’s shorter grip may make concealing easier for some people compared to the Shield Plus’ longer grip. However, the longer grip on the Shield Plus can potentially provide better control and ergonomics. It comes down to personal body type and intended carry methods.

Trigger & Sights

The Shield Plus uses an upgraded crisp trigger for a cleaner break compared to the original Shield. I have carried the original Shield for almost a decade now, so I’m used to its trigger, which is decent, but the new Plus trigger is markedly better. The Hellcat features a flat trigger for smooth pulling. Both have an easy take-up and reset.

For sights, the Shield Plus comes with metal white dot sights, while the Hellcat uses high visibility tritium/luminescent sights from the factory. The glow makes the Hellcat’s sights faster for aiming in low-light shooting situations.

Features

Unique features on the Shield Plus include an ambidextrous slide stop and optional manual thumb safety. The Hellcat includes a built-in standoff device as a concealed carry feature. This pushes the pistol away from the body for better concealment and improved comfort.

Both pistols come optics ready from the factory for red dot lovers like me. The Hellcat directly accommodates the Shield RMSc optic using an adapter plate, while the Shield Plus requires a separate adapter plate purchased for optic mounting.

Both the Hellcat and Shield Plus are available with an optional optic cut that receives most compact red dots.

Performance & Reliability 

The Shield Plus and Hellcat both function flawlessly, provided quality ammunition is used. They handle various brands of ammunition without any feed issues. Though they differ in features and size, reliability and performance are equally matched between these two popular pistols.

As micro-compact pistols with shorter barrels, their velocity potential is lower than larger pistols. However, both still provide sufficient power for self-defense thanks to modern ammunition technology, producing bullets that expand quickly even at lower velocities.

Cost

The biggest difference between the Shield Plus and Hellcat is the price. The MSRP on the Shield Plus is $599, while the Hellcat starts around $650. The Shield Plus can routinely be found under $500.

So, while the Hellcat offers great advanced technology and optics mounting directly from the factory, you’ll pay a premium for those features. The Shield Plus provides excellent, reliable performance for hundreds less.

Parting Shot

The Smith & Wesson Shield Plus and Springfield Armory Hellcat are both quality micro-compact pistols well-suited for concealed carry needs. While the Hellcat costs considerably more and offers a few high-tech bells and whistles, the Shield Plus delivers impressive capacity and shootability in a smaller package without breaking the bank. Ultimately, it comes down to budget and personal preferences on features and ergonomics when deciding between these two modern concealed-carry handguns. Either way, you’ll be equipping yourself with an adequate self-defense tool.

David Workman is an avid gun guy, a contributing writer to several major gun publications, and the author of Absolute Authority. A logophile since way back, Workman is a quickdraw punslinger and NRA RSO and Certified Pistol Instructor. He helps train new shooters on basic handgun skills and CCW requirements and is a strong advocate for training as much as practicable. "Real-world shootouts don't happen at a box range."

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