Last weekend Kim Du Toit asked his readers to write about the .357 Magnum we couldn’t do without. Needless to say this presented a bit of a quandary for me, as I was born to the world of hand gunning with a 1911 but it was with .357 Magnum Revolvers, two especially, that I came into my own. So I set to thinking. I’ll present the finalists here.
First up we have “Junior” (named back when I had few enough guns to do that sort of thing). “Junior” is a Smith & Wesson 686 with a 6 inch barrel. I bought this gun in 1986 for $200 from a U.S. Marshall. After I bought it I took it to my local gun store and smithy where my mentor in the gun business walked me through doing a trigger job on Smith & Wesson Revolvers. At the same time we also changed the front sight insert to black and chamfered the cylinders for easier reloading.
“Junior” was my very first hand gun, as such it was my constant companion on many adventures and mis-adventures. I have had to replace the rear sight blade 3 times because of damage (one of these days I’ll install a Millett rear sight), and I’ve fired close to if not more than 100,000 rounds through this gun. Mostly moderate loads consisting of 158 grain cast lead bullets over Unique. I have carried this weapon concealed in a Bianchi Shoulder Holster and in the open in a Security Holster. This is the gun I used for years in practical pistol matches and was also the gun I used when I went up against Author, Instructor and NTI Champion Andy Stanford. I’d like to say it was a close match, but the best I could do was give him a small run for his money.
This gun and I have been through a lot together and it has saved my life on two occasions. It is something I value highly, but is it “The .357 I couldn’t do without?”
Next is one of my unnamed guns. I really should name it as it has a unique history, but first some background.
I’ve always been a fan of wildcat cartridges, ones that shoot hard and fast are my favorite. Among these is a marrying of the .357 Magnum to the .44 Magnum called the .357x.44 Bain and Davis. I wanted one of these! It is created by taking a .357 magnum firearm that has a beefy enough cylinder for the .44 Magnum. There are very few revolvers capable of handling this. One was the S&W Model 27 which I happened to stumble across one day while perusing gun stores.
Now before you Smith & Wesson Collectors go ballistic I’ll say the conversion was never done. When I bought the gun I didn’t realize what it was (and for $300 who would) the gun was a 5 inch barrelled model that had a pinned barrel and recessed chambers. It also came with a walnut presentation case, cleaning kit and some other goodies. My thinking was; “That would make a real classy looking custom shooter.” So off I went again to my favorite gun store and smithy since I knew he had the tools to do the job.
When I showed him my new acquisition he was quite impressed, then he gave me the bad news. “If you’re going to do a .357x.44 B&D in a double action revolver you should really use a Ruger Redhawk, the Smiths can’t handle the maximum loads like a Ruger.” My whole reason for wanting a .357x.44 B&D was to get maximum performance from a .357 bullet, so now I had a gun I had no use for and that made it a gun I did not want to keep around.
One of the guns in my mentor’s case at the time was a 3” barreled Smith & Wesson Model 65. It was a compact, lightweight (compared to my 686 anyway) .357 and my 686 was a heavy load to carry all day even in the best of rigs. So I decided to give it some thought.
After a few weeks I made my decision, I would try and trade my Model 27 for the Model 65. So off I went to the shop and presented the owner with my trade, he thought about it, did some calculating and decided to trade straight across.
During this time I had been making some side money refurbishing guns he’d bought at a Police auction. I’d been doing some thinking about the gun industry and marketing and I had decided that women were woefully under-represented in our sport and part of the reason was a lack of quality firearms in serious defensive calibers they could use. So the guns I had been refurbishing were done with a woman’s needs and wants in mind. I think my girlfriend and female acquaintances at the time handled more guns than anything else during this time. I decided that the Model 65 would become the ultimate work in that regard. My masterpiece so to speak, my Mona Lisa. So out came the files, the stones, the screwdrivers and I set to work.
The first thing I did was modify the cylinder release to give speed loaders a bit more clearance as well as to keep the top of one’s thumb from encountering the bottom of the cylinder release. From there I did a trigger job and adjusted the mainspring to give the lightest pull possible while still being reliable. Also since some people liked to wrap their finger around the front of the trigger guard I stippled that surface for a better purchase. During reliability testing I found several things lacking in the grip area. One was the standard grips didn’t fill anyone’s hand well. The other was that the back of the grips tended to beat up the last knuckle of the thumb. So a Tyler’s T Grip Adapter was installed and the stock grips rasped and sanded down until they were comfortable.
The women who shot the gun felt it was OK, but weren’t too thrilled with the grips still. I found the solution a few weeks later when I came across a Hogue Neoprene Monogrip for the gun. After adding those the grip was considered and instant hit, but they were black and ugly. That and the rubber tended to catch on clothing causing the gun to print. So I tried a pair of Spegel Boot Grips. A beautiful wood grain, hand filling, comfortable, and it didn’t catch on clothing. I couldn’t afford them at the time, but liked the way they looked (as did my test group).
Next came the two final issues. First the stainless steel sights were hard to see and second the hammer liked to hang up on things if the gun was drawn from a purse. (I hadn’t heard nor did I think about putting ones thumb on the hammer during the draw) The sights I fixed with lowly Testors Flat Black paint, and the hammer was simply ground off and re-contoured. After this the ladies all pronounced it good. The owner of the shop I did my work in only had one feature he would like to see and that was a shroud over the ejector rod to keep it from being damaged. These ideas were later presented to a S&W factory representative. A short time later S&W unveiled the Model 65 LadySmith. I’d like to think I had a small hand in the introduction of that fine revolver.
Shortly after I finished this product another desired gun fell into my possession. A Colt Delta Elite 10mm Stainless. In order to buy it I did something foolish; I sold my Model 65, to a woman of course. It was no surprise that after trying every other gun in stock because she didn’t want a used gun that the owner talked her into trying my 65. She held it for about a minute and out came the cash.
At first I didn’t miss the 65 I had my 10mm and it was flatter than any revolver and the 10mm round hit harder too. But after a while I began to miss the elegance and the history of that little revolver. Oh, I tried to forget it, buying a Colt Officer’s Model for a carry gun, then a S&W 642 in .38 Special, and then in desperation a Kel-Tec P32 but something was missing from all of them. So I began my search for the now discontinued model 65.
After a year of searching I finally found and purchased another one. Once again this little gun went under the file and the stone. But I had learned a few things since my last Model 65 so changes weren’t as drastic. A trigger job was done, the cylinders chamfered, but the hammer was not ground off, and the front of the trigger guard was not stippled. I did add a laminated rosewood version of Spegel Boot Grips made by Hogue instead of the old rubber ones. I also purchased a nice leather holster, belt and speed loader pouches made by Bianchi for it to complement the elegance of this fine revolver.
So my original Model 65 is long gone. I’d like to believe that the woman who bought it still carries it with her to this day. I doubt I’ll ever know. However, I have an updated version of my vision, and a work of art it is (at least in the artist’s opinion). It’s too bad that S&W discontinued the six shot K-Frame .357 Magnums. No they can’t stand up to a regular diet of .357s, but that’s why we have .38 Special Ammunition. In my opinion the 3” Model 65 makes for one of the most perfect packing pistols out there. Heavy enough to absorb recoil, light enough to be carried all day and with 6 rounds of .357 Magnum (plus a few speedloaders) at your disposal you’re ready for all but the roughest of neighborhoods.
It’s hard for me to say which of these two .357s I can’t do without so I am going to say both. The smooth trigger action of the Smith & Wessons, their elegant lines, their reliability, and their sentimental value are all reasons that make these the .357s I can’t do without.