Shooting Iron:
The Most Practical Revolver


Two of Duke’s S&W M&P (pre-Model 10) .38 Specials with 2" and 5" barrels.

For starters, let me say I’ve never been a certified firearms instructor, never been trained as a law enforcement officer, never served in the military and never been involved in a firearms altercation. I have been an avid handgun shooter since 1966, having owned hundreds of revolvers and pistols, and fired untold thousands, maybe over 100,000 factory loads and handloads through them during the 55 years. And I’ve written a couple of thousand magazine articles.

With the above in mind, I’m not keen to give opinions on defensive firearms. Regardless, I’m sometimes asked for advice by non-shooters who somehow become aware of what I do for a living. The conversations go like this, “Mike, what do you recommend I (or my wife) get for a handgun?” My reply, “To what end?” They usually say, “Uh, to get one to keep in my home.” Again, I question, “Do you intend to get involved in recreational shooting, competition or at least attend a training class?” Vague reply, “Uh, maybe someday, but I’m awfully busy right now.”

That’s when I stop and say, “Find yourself a .38 Special double-action revolver, preferably with a 4″ barrel. Other brands exist, but my favorites are S&W Model 10 M&P .38 Specials. My answer generally takes the questioner by surprise, and they respond, “I thought you would say GLOCK or SIG or some sort of semi-auto.”

In its 122-year history, S&W M&P/Model 10 .38 Specials have been
made with blue and nickel-plated finishes.

Semi-Autos For Beginners?

No, I wouldn’t recommend a semi-auto for a novice: Not now, not ever, never! Semi-autos require training and experience. Have you ever watched a novice fumble about loading magazines and getting them seated in pistols properly? Some pistols have safeties that need mastering. Also, they will have either a single-action or double-action trigger mechanism. And how about the following: malfunctions caused by ammunition, malfunctions caused by limp-wristing, or malfunctions caused by dirty gun and/or ammo? And perhaps above all, the matter of whether one should keep a semi-auto’s chamber loaded or unloaded.

Now consider this. A Model 10 M&P has no safety, but it won’t fire unless the trigger is pulled. In a double-action with the trigger’s long pull, firing must be intentional. Model 10 M&P sights are fixed and duly (hopefully) factory regulated for ammo with about 150- to 160-grain bullets at about 800 to 850 fps. There are oodles of factory loads that fit those parameters.

This assortment of cartridges illustrates a small part of .38 Special factory loads
past and present. From left: 158-gr. “Police” RN, 148-gr. WC, 200-gr. “Super Police”
RN, U.S. military 130-gr. FMJ tracer, 158-gr. SWC-HP in an aluminum case, 125-gr.
+P JHP and 158-gr. “Cowboy” load.

Time Tested

S&W unveiled the K-Frame Military & Police in 1899, and the revolver, in turn, was the introductory vehicle for the .38 Special. It is one of the finest all-around revolver cartridges ever developed. Until 1957 the S&W factory assigned names to their handguns. This new one became Military & Police, but after 1957 it officially became Model 10. M&P/Model 10s have been made in blue finish, nickel-plated finish and even stainless steel. The SS ones were named Model 64 and Modelv65. There is also a variation called Model 12. It is nothing more than the Model 10 but with a frame of aluminum alloy. Barrel lengths have been 2″, 3″, 4″, 5″, 6″ and 61/2″. Maybe there are some others of which I’m not aware. Model 10/M&P barrels were almost pencil-thin, but the company offered a heavy barrel option in later years.

In his excellent book The K-Frame Revolver, author Timothy J. Mullin relates that over 8,000,000 K-Frame S&W revolvers had been made by the time of his writing (Copyright 2013). Of course, many of those were .22s, .32s, .38 S&Ws and .357 Magnums. I’d bet cold, hard cash the most significant number were chambered for .38 Special. They are still available, newly made by S&W, albeit only with 4″ barrels. Used ones are not rare.

After my comment to advice seekers, some get snarky and say, “So you’d have us rank and file buy obsolete old revolvers, but I bet you keep modern pistols for yourself.” As a rule, I wouldn’t say I like to give advice preferring only to relate what I do personally. So, my answer to such a comment is, “I won’t tell you where I keep them, but in my home are stashed away two S&W Model 10/M&P .38 Specials. One has a 2″ barrel and the other a five incher. Also, there is a Model 12 with a 2″ barrel.” And I don’t keep them loaded with the newest types of ammo: just ordinary factory loads with lead semi-wadcutter or semi-wadcutter hollowpoint bullets.

S&W Model 10 Military & Police .38 Specials are point-and-shoot home guns. No more practical, down-to-earth, no-nonsense handgun has ever existed.

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