January 10, 2019
Photos by Alfredo Rico
I have had the opportunity to shoot and review dozens of beautiful custom guns, but until recently, I have not owned one. Every pistol I owned was duty-grade, holster-worn and slightly beat up. Thanks to my good friends at Agency Arms, that finally changed.
It’s not that I never wanted a really beautiful custom gun, it’s just that I could never justify the expense. Even in the age of polymer dominance, custom work on guns takes time, patience and expertise. Sure, you can get a decent stipple job from your buddy and his soldering iron, but perfect lines, recontoured frames and that custom slide work are going to cost you. I recently spent a day with Michael Parks and the rest of the great crew at Agency Arms, and I saw what goes into some of those works of art that are blowing up your Instagram feed.
I’ve known Parks for several years, and we both work as police officers in Southern California, so there was an immediate sense of familiarity. Parks was great about teaching me what goes into designing the modifications for each pistol, from the CAD-CAM drawings to the prototyping. As an end user, I had no idea how much work went into designing each modification. For every action there is a reaction, so every time you alter the weight of the slide by removing material, that needs to be accounted for to ensure that the pistol’s cycle of operation isn’t affected. This is a brutally tedious and painstaking process that, if ignored, will turn your $2,000 blaster into a $2,000 paperweight. At Agency, it all starts with the engineering, and that makes the difference.
A tour of the Agency facility proves that the obsessive attention to detail isn’t just relegated to the engineering department. Every work station is immaculate, with generous work space and easy access to tools and parts by each of the skilled gunsmiths and artisans. There is none of the clutter or dirt that I’ve seen in shops that do similar work. The multiple state-of-the-art CNC machines also have their own spaces, with adjoining racks and trays. There is an overwhelming sense of military order, which makes sense based on Parks’ U.S. Marine Corps and police background. There was something else that struck me as I toured the facility: everyone was happy. There was none of the sweatshop vibe that I’ve seen in some other shops, and everyone was happy to answer my stupid questions as we went through.
First customized pistol
After touring the place and talking to Parks several times, I knew I wanted Agency Arms to design my first custom pistol. I had the perfect donor pistol, a Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 Compact. After 30 minutes of talking, haggling, laughing and peering intently at the computer, all the specs were figured out. All that was left to do was wait. For a while. Since I didn’t need it right away, I volunteered to wait for some cool new upgrades that they were perfecting. Six months later, I got the pistol back — and the wait was worth every minute.
I have to admit, uncasing the pistol was a surreal moment. I inhaled slightly when I pulled it from the case. The frame was subtly modified with additional stippling above the standard texture, extending forward to the famous Agency Accelerator Cut. The triggerguard was tastefully and sparingly reprofiled, allowing a higher grip with the support hand without compromising the function or aesthetic of the M&P lines. The slide was done with the Agency Gavel package, which, in addition to a reprofile of existing serrations, added serrations to the forward portion of the slide as well as to the top of the slide. These serrations are important, Parks informed me, because M&Ps with thumb safeties (like mine) are difficult for some people to manipulate because the safety gets in the way of the shooter’s grip when trying to cycle the slide. The RMR perched upon the top of my magnificent pistol negated that, as it can act as a large cocking handle, but for those who have not yet crossed over to the mini red dot side, the forward serrations provide an area of purchase. Besides the Trijicon RMR, my custom pistol also included a set of Dawson precision fixed sights, with the rear sight sitting in a new dovetail in front of the RMR. I’ve had the opportunity to run several different sight setups, and while I’ve found most of them useable, the rear sight in front of the dot works best for me.
Despite all of the really cool things going on with the slide, the real show-stopper was the barrel: an Agency custom with a partial hexagonal barrel exterior and a match-fit hood, finished in an absolutely stunning multicolored PVC coating. The light glinted off the edges of the flats as I locked the slide to the rear, and the colors swirled like the Northern Lights, with the green at the crown of the barrel showing the deepest color. I’m not usually a fan of these synthetic finishes, but this is impressive — it’s like color case-hardening on steroids.
As I handled the pistol and dry-fired it, it became clear that the most meaningful upgrade was the trigger. The combination of Apex and Agency parts, along with the Agency hand-fitting, resulted in a trigger press of less than 3¼ pounds with very little take-up and virtually no over-travel. The reset was crisp and tactile, and the trigger seemed even lighter when pressing out of reset. This is the best striker-fired trigger I’ve felt, and it’s even better than many of the tuned 1911s that I’ve shot. I don’t mean to wax hyperbolic, but the trigger is that good.
So, with a match-fit barrel and a phenomenal trigger, how would this little gem shoot? I took it to the range as soon as I got it back from its photoshoot, and my first group at 10 yards, off-hand, put 10 rounds into a ragged hole about the size of a half dollar. It was a little high and to the right but not too bad. I shot some more to get used to the trigger and recoil impulse, and then I took it back to 25 and shot it rested. Once I got the RMR dialed in, I was able to shoot consistent sub-2-inch groups from a sandbag.
The barrel definitely preferred the 147-grain ammunition, but even the cheap 115-grain range ammo that I had on hand grouped under 4 inches — and that junk usually groups around 6 inches. Shooting this pistol just flat out makes me happy.
The ergonomics of the M&P 2.0 are among the best in the striker-fired world, and the subtle Agency reprofiling makes it even better. The stocks fill my medium-size hand perfectly, and it’s so ergonomic that it’s hard to believe that there are 15 rounds lurking in the magazine well. Everything fits and works perfectly; the pistol is smooth where it needs to be smooth, rough where it needs to be rough, and no detail has been overlooked.
Even the slide cycles ridiculously smoothly. The dot tracks easily in recoil, and the recoil itself is easy to control because of the contours that allow the shooter’s hands to get nice and high on the gun. The gun is very fast to shoot, and even coming off recent shoulder surgery, my splits between shots were all easily in the teens when I cared to push it. Which was often. Because this gun is fun to shoot.
About seven years ago, I wrote an article on an advanced-for-the-time custom polymer gun that sported a red dot. I asked the question, “Is the world ready for a $2,000 striker-fired gun?” I certainly wasn’t. But time has validated the concept, and Agency has perfected it. I’m ready now.
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