The Magical Model 12

Lightweight, Accurate — and a Sixshooter!
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Model 12

(L-R) A former Hong Kong cop Model 12 Roy chopped and customized for carry years ago. The blued 2" Model 12 came next some years ago, and recently Roy talked Tiger out of the nickel one, a Model 12-3 third gen. The old Winchester flashlight is just for fun.

Model 12

(L-R) The Colt Cobra(with shroud) is classy and holds six shots but doesn’t handle as well as the Model 12 next in line. At top, the early Agent also has six rounds but is both more austereand exhibits that “stacking” Colt trigger, like the Cobra.

I’ve always been enamored — is it okay to be enamored? — with the Model 12. If you’re not up to speed, it’s a K-Frame S&W with an aluminum alloy frame weighing about 18 oz. in the 2" version. Early guns were made for the Airforce and even had aluminum cylinders, but it was soon found they just didn’t hold up. Introduced to the commercial market around 1953, the same gun with aluminum cylinder suffered from the same ills — go figure — so the aluminum cylinder got tossed for a steel one. Problem solved. From then until about 1986 the Model 12 (in four “generations”) remained in the Smith catalog in blue or nickel. I’m blessed with one of each flavor thanks to my talking Tiger McKee out of his nickel one lately. Don’t hate me Tiger.

When I was a new cop, I stumbled onto a blued police trade-in Model 12 with a 4" barrel from, of all places, the Hong Kong police department. It even had a lanyard loop. It was just an old cop gun in those days and I think I paid something like $125 for it. It was actually minty inside with little sign of being fired, just carried a lot. While I loved J-Frames and D-Frame Colts — and still do — the K-Frame sized Model 12 simply handles better. Being a “full-sized” K-Frame, the bigger grip, better sights, longer/smoother action make it much easier to handle and shoot accurately.

I took to that Model 12 fast and carried it off and on for quite some time. I did have the sense not to beat it up with hot ammo — they just can’t take +P stuff — and with a diet of primarily .38 Special Target Wadcutters, it’s still alive and kicking. I did customize it in the late 1980s — check out the picture — and snubbing the hammer and shortening the barrel to about 3" really made it handy.

To put some perspective into things, a J-Frame Model 36 (steel) weighs about 19 oz. and carries five rounds. An “Airweight” J-Frame like the classic Model 37 weighs pretty close to 14 oz. depending on the grip style. So with a 2" Model 12, you get all the advantage I talked about, in about the same weight range. Speaking of weight, for more reference, that elegant little .22 LR in the pic on p. 96, the Model 43, has an aluminum cylinder and is a feathery 14 oz. The Colt Cobra in another pic manages a comfy 16.5 oz. while the more austere early Agent (with Tyler T-Grip) is about 15 oz. give or take. Almost birds of a feather, if you will.

But we’re back to what I learned earlier. Even with six shots, the Colt models are smaller than the Model 12, but the distinctive Colt action which sort of “stacks” as you pull the trigger, makes them not quite as friendly to shoot as the bigger Model 12. You’ll feel it the instant you pick them up. For shooting, I’d take the Model 12, while for simply carrying around, with little shooting, the smaller guns win — barely. Slightly bigger means a bit tougher to conceal in a pocket, sure, but lord, the 2" Model 12’s are delightful to shoot! And frankly, as accurate as any 4" at 15 or 25 yards. Decisions, eh?

Model 12

That’s six shots in about 10 seconds DA at 15 yards done by Roy, mostly just goofing off. But it shows these modest guns shoot great. Load was Black Hills’ 148-gr. wadcutters, a favorite for this sort of gun.

Model 12

Here a Model 12 is hiding a stock square butt 4" Model 10 behind it. But the light weight, round butt and shorter barrel of the 12 makes it much more carry friendly.

Model 12 Secrets

Okay, not really secrets, but in all honesty it wasn’t until just a few years ago I found out the frames of the first three generations of Model 12’s are about 0.08" narrower than standard Model 10 frames. I put a set of stock Model 10 grips on a Model 12 once and there was a gap under the grip panel at the side plate. Huh? What? A bit of research yielded the reason and once I knew it, I could “see” it when I handled the guns. The Model 12 does feel “slimmer” — not by much, but it’s there to a practiced eye and hand. The final Model 12-4 introduced in about 1984 went full-width. Oh, and any of them through the years could be had in square or round-butt, with round butt being my favorite. There’s a joke somewhere nearby, but I won’t go there.

Our friends at S&W introduced the “Night Guard” series some years ago as a new line of lightweight revolvers. One model, the 315 Night Guard, was essentially a Model 12 but modernized. They sold out and the line is discontinued, but you can find them on Gunbroker.com and the like. Worth a look if you ask me. The amazing thing is today, a nice, clean Model 12 (any generation) can go for a low of about $500 for a basic shooter to upwards of $1,200 for a minty one in a box and such. If you stay away from +P ammo and just enjoy the gun, you can’t go wrong, and it will always be worth what you paid for it or more.

Rybka holster

Leathersmith Thad Rybka makes this nifty strong side simple scabbard and Roy likes it for his Model 12. Ammo is the full-wadcutter defense load in .38 Special from Buffalo Bore (standard pressure) in the strip, and the classic 158-gr. soft lead SWCHP in the HKS speedloader. Both are Model 12 friendly.

smith & wesson model 12

(Top to bottom) Smith & Wesson’s feathery Model 43 in .22 LR is the poster child for “trail” pistol. The blued Model 12 is next followedby an early all-steel Model 36. The Model 12 sits right where it belongs, sort of “in-between” the two ideas.

Carrying And Shooting

I enjoy carrying mine around my place here now and again just to exercise it, and have found my Thad Rybka belt holster to be about perfect for the job. Come winter time, it also finds its way into town with me under a coat. Out to about 25 yards, it’s a laser beam, and even my 80-yard torso gong gets tired of being wanged by it and those 148-gr. wadcutters. I swear that target taunts me, “Sure, go ahead, you’ll never hit me!” Followed by “Bang, Clang, Ouch! Hey, stop it, that hurts!” Gotcha.

Speaking of shooting, that target you see in the pic on p. 98 is a 15-yard, 2" group I shot double action in about 10 seconds using Black Hills target wadcutters. I was mostly just goofing off, but that’s six shots and if I took my time, I’ll wager that group would easily be 1.5" or better. Like I said, they shoot like laser beams if you do your stuff. One of these days I’ll follow this up with a gala 100-yard shoot-fest with these cool old guns. That’d be fun. I especially like the fact both of mine shoot mostly right to point of aim.
Note the blued one has the flat cylinder latch putting it as a very early gun. The nickel is a Model 12-3. Between the two, I like the blued a tad better due to the smoother action and the fact it’s a bit of a seasoned gentleman — sorta’ like I am. Is that the same as just being called old?
Bye for now, but I promise more later.

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