S&W Model 10: A Revolver For the Long Haul

This is a discussion on S&W Model 10: A Revolver For the Long Haul within the General Firearm Discussion forums, part of the Related Topics category; This is a tribute to my first handgun. The post is getting a bit shopworn as I've placed it on several forums. Perhaps some old ...

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    S&W Model 10: A Revolver For the Long Haul

    This is a tribute to my first handgun. The post is getting a bit shopworn as I've placed it on several forums. Perhaps some old timers will appreciate it or those who are "on the fence" about the grand old .38 Special will be encouraged to give it a try. Anyone who encounters a good used Smith & Wesson Model 10 or it's earlier incarnation as the ORIGINAL Military & Police would do well to consider adding such a fine revolver to a defensive arsenal. Of all the handguns in my menagerie this one is still the favorite.

    I’ve always had the good fortune to have both firearms and unlimited shooting opportunities available to me. Growing up, I lived in a rural setting from the time I was old enough to handle a gun. I spent many happy hours with a Benjamin Model 347 air rifle, a Winchester Model 190 .22 rifle, and an old Savage 755 auto loading 12-gauge shotgun. Through trial and error I learned most basic principals of shooting such as trajectory, wind drift, lead etc. By the time I graduated high school I had accumulated several good rifles and that Savage shotgun. My huntin’ uncle, who’d had a large collection of firearms, died a few years before and my cousins all had access to his arsenal. This included handguns, some of which are now tremendous collector’s items. I hung out with these cousins and was able to sample most all of my uncle’s menagerie of weapons. I determined that I required a handgun of my own.

    I became employed with a large Fort Worth bank at 18, just out of high school and was making more money than I’d ever had before. $385 per month, which worked out to $161 every two weeks take-home! Why I had money to burn so burned up a goodly sum on firearms. I became acquainted with some of the armored motor transport guards who made their daily deliveries armed with Colt or Smith and Wesson .38 Special revolvers. One of the guards mentioned that he intended to trade off his blued revolver for a flashier nickel-plated revolver. I was all ears as I couldn’t just walk into a shop and purchase a handgun at eighteen. I offered to buy his revolver and he told me he’d sell it for $75. I happily paid him and spirited my new purchase out of the bank and home. It was a slightly used Smith & Wesson Model 10 with four-inch heavy barrel. The right grip was worn from dragging against the brick wall in the close confines of the bank’s armored motor dock while on the guard’s hip. Only later did I learn that the list price of a new Model 10 was $78.50.

    Still… I had a handgun. I replaced the scuffed grip and wrote the date I acquired the Model 10 on the inside of the left grip panel, December 16, 1975. Later a factory letter indicated that my gun was shipped in June of 1971.

    My favorite huntin’ cousin who was only five days younger than I, and with whom I’d grown up, had his dad’s Smith & Wesson Model 15 four inch and also had available to him all his dad’s handloading equipment and supplies. We went into the ammo makin’ business. We had no business makin’ ammo without adult supervision. We wanted “hot” loads so we made ‘em up as we went along. If the old Hornady and Pacific manuals we were using stated a maximum charge of Unique, we started there and added a grain. Seemed like a good place to begin. Only the goodness of the basic S&W K-frame design saved us from ourselves. We happily fired several thousand of these loads. We’d even take the loading equipment with us to the family lake cabin, which was situated on large acreage. There we’d shoot up 500 rounds of the hot .38 Special ammo one day, clamp the old Lyman Spar-T press to the kitchen table and reload the cases that night for the next day’s fun. Back then we’d never heard of hearing protection so I am somewhat deaf to this day from the pounding my ears took so long ago. After the first year or so we toned done the loads to more reasonable levels to the everlasting gratitude of our revolvers, which we both still have and which are none the worse for wear.

    Roaming the wilds of the family property at the lake, various deer leases, or my parents’ home place I always found varmints and critters galore to shoot. My old Model 10 has taken most every thing that may be found in these parts of Texas including but not necessarily limited to: mice, rats, gophers, ground squirrels, snakes, lizards, turtles, birds, rabbits, jackrabbits, squirrels, armadillos, skunks ‘possums, ‘coons, ringtailed cats, a coyote, carp, gar, nutria, a few black bass, crow, duck, turkey, guinea fowl, feral dogs and cats, and deer. My favorite field load for the .38 Special, a 158 grain lead SWC over 4.8 grains of Unique, is generally what I use. The .38 Special has always performed well for me with good hits and that is all one can ask of a cartridge. Even with the deer or the largest of dogs that I tackled, it offered effective killing power. I can’t recall anything that ran off after I turned my .38 Special on it.

    Years ago I spine shot a small buck with a .30-40 Krag, paralyzing him but not immediately killing him. I was packing my Model 10 on my belt, filled with SuperVel 110 grain +P loads. I carefully lined up a shot, which I though would pierce his heart and fired. He stopped struggling and his eyes glazed over and he was dead. Upon field dressing him I found that the hot hollowpoint load did indeed poke a .38 hole through his heart and then the bullet ranged far down his left foreleg stopping just before the knee joint. I extracted it to find that it hadn’t opened up and was scarcely damaged at all. This shot was taken at pointblank range, and the ammo had chronographed at 1237 fps from the 4-inch barrel of the Model 10. This was the first revelation to me that expanding bullets didn’t always perform as well as their reputation suggested.

    Twenty something years ago I set out to kill my first deer with a handgun and I determined that I wanted it to be a .38 Special. I had a quantity of 200 grain Remington lead round nose factory component bullets on hand, so selected this heavy slug to use. I worked up, and chronographed loads with several powders, finally settling on a charge of 2400 which gave this long heavy bullet a muzzle velocity of 935 fps from the 8 3/8-inch barrel of my S&W Model 14. This bullet was of very soft lead and gave good expansion in some materials I used in my non-tests. In actual use, one of these slugs slammed through the boiler room of a Texas whitetail buck and effectively settled his hash. The bullet lodged in a rib on the off side of the deer, flattened out with a big smear of lead on one side about the size of a quarter. It had apparently turned sideways in its track through the vitals. This shot was taken at all of 17 yards.

    Many years later I sent a factory Winchester +P 158 grain SWC-HP from my Model 10 through a small Texas whitetail doe from about 30 yards away. She ran about 40 yards in a semi-circle, fell on her back, kicked weakly at the sky and expired. This bullet exited, leaving only a ¾-inch exit hole.

    While scouting out a locale on a deer lease one fall I came upon a spike buck entangled in a barbed wire fence. He was very lively but his forelegs were ribbons and one was broken from his struggles. One of my 4.8 grain/158 grain SWC handloads from my favorite old Model 10 through the heart killed him instantly. Of course this was at point blank range.

    I commuted to a bank in a different town for 11 years, which took me through some deer country. I frequently saw deer lying dead on the roadside, killed by automobiles. One morning I passed a nice buck lying injured in a ditch beside the highway. A customer of mine drove up about the same time I did and we shook our heads regretfully about the waste of a good buck and a nice rack. I returned to my pickup and retrieved my Model 10, putting the poor buck out of his misery with a single shot to the front of the chest with the Winchester 158 grain +P load. The life went out of his eyes and his head sagged to the ground upon receiving the shot.

    From 1980 to 1983 I was a silhouette shooting fiend, attending local matches in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and practicing several times a week at our local range. I primarily used an 8 3/8-inch Smith & Wesson Model 29 for the four seasons I was involved in the sport, but played with several other revolvers to some extent, mostly on the practice range. I never got to be any great shakes at hunter pistol silhouette. At my practiced best I hovered around 30 out of 40 possible. While practicing, I unlimbered the Model 10 on a number of occasions and was generally good for 18 to 22 with the 4-inch fixed sight revolver, using the “Kentucky windage” method of lofting the 158 grain/4.8 grains Unique load into the turkeys and rams. It was pretty easy to accomplish once one familiarized oneself with the trajectory. My Model 10 needs no allowance for proper horizontal hold on target with most of my loads.

    I had some long-range practice under my belt when I took up hunter pistol silhouette competition, as I’d previously spend several years shooting at ranges out to 200 yards with handguns at a range we have set up at our lake cabin. It’s fun to wile away the afternoon, pretending to be a howitzer, and flinging lead at distant targets with a .38 Special. Instructive too. Cousins, brothers-in-law, assorted friends, and I have set up cans, rocks, gallon milk jugs full of water, old real estate signs, and other assorted targets including a few computers/monitors on the side of the hill of our range and then assaulted them with all kinds of ordnance. My Model 10 has always been at the forefront of such goofin’ off. There’s a oval shaped rock 2 ½ feet by 1 1/2 feet at about 140 yards that I still can hit with regularity with the Model 10 by holding what appears to be a foot over it with the moderate Unique load. That rock is smaller than it’s original dimensions due to all the long range pounding it’s endured for the past 30 years.

    The crow I took was the unfortunate recipient of all this long-range pistol practice. I was fishing in a secret hole when a heavy rainstorm came along. I retreated to the car to sit it out. Along came a forlorn crow and lit in a cottonwood tree at water’s edge about 100 yards away. I looked at the crow a long time, speculating on whether or not I could employ the Model 10 to trim him off the limb on which he was perched. Finally I determined to try. Opening the car door against the torrent, I braced my elbows on the window frame, held about a crow-length over him, and carefully pressed the trigger. The Model 10 barked and, after a short interval, the bullet struck the crow with an audible thud and down he plummeted with a splash, into the pond. Don’t know whether he or I was the more surprised. Of course both the Model 10 and I got a thorough wetting.

    Speaking of wettings, the Model 10 and not some stainless handgun, has always accompanied me duck hunting or fishing. It’s been rained on, snowed on, bled on, muddy, and has been swimming in our slough on Lake Leon on a few occasions. Sometimes it rides in a belt holster and sometimes it is toted in the pocket on the inside of the chest waders. That pocket gets kinda sandy and gritty during the season too. No matter, the revolver is always available and always works perfectly. I always keep it wiped off best as possible, and it receives a thorough cleaning and re-oiling after living in such an environment. Never any rust problems. Early on in its career and in my own crass ignorance, it was subjected to underwater firing tests in Lake Leon. The volume of gas released makes for a huge bubble but I couldn’t even connect with a submerged stump at 10 feet. I was unwilling to get any closer in fear that I might be struck with a bullet that bounced back at me. In the interest of prudence I must caution against this idiotic practice of firing underwater. I’d seen an episode of “Sea Hunt” where the bad guy fired a snub nosed revolver at Lloyd Bridges as they grappled in an underwater fight scene, so just had to try it.

    Ed McGivern’s famous tome “Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting” inspired me to attempt to learn the stunt of aerial shooting. This is an activity that is difficult to safely pursue in this day and age. One must be in control of a lot of wide, open space to insure complete safety when the bullets fall. I have had the space available to safely practice aerial target shooting. After expenditure of much ammunition I became capable of hitting self-thrown targets about 50% of the time. Most of my aerial shooting was accomplished with the Model 10, though a good deal was done with two other Smith & Wesson revolvers, an 8 3/8-inch Model 17 .22, and an 8 3/8-inch Model 29 .44 Magnum (with light loads). I always felt that I actually did better work on this type of shooting with the Model 10 than with the long barreled revolvers. I’ve had opportunities to surprise a few buddies with my shooting antics on the aerial targets.

    When the going gets tough I reach for my old Model 10. I am scarcely ever farther than three feet from a handgun whether I am toting on my person or the handgun is nearby. This has been so for 30 years now and that handgun is generally a .38 Special, usually my Model 10 HB. I’m grateful for the measure of security and reassurance it provides. I spent a couple of years as a bank collection manager, and as a long time loan officer, I have always made efforts to effect payment or repossession on my own delinquent loans through the personal visit. Over the past 25 years or so, field collection activities have taken me to some locales both unsavory and remote, and at some odd hours. The Model 10 is not a collection technique but a comfort. On two occasions its heft was reassuring as I balanced it in my hand to forestall the possible deterioration of a situation. On both occasions the desired effect was achieved without a shot being fired. Neither of these had to do with past due note collections. Never once in 26 years have I been assailed with anything but verbal threats while collecting.

    It’s been my experience that the Smith & Wesson revolver of traditional manufacture at least, wears in instead of wearing out. I don’t know about the new ones with the MIM parts, barrel shrouds, and locks. After many years of heavy use my Model 10 has the finest single action trigger pull that a mechanical trigger can provide, and its double action pull is smooth as butter. My Model 10 hasn’t had an action job. It’s never been to a gunsmith either. The $25 “action job” was once de rigueur for the gunsmiths of the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, both the good ‘uns and the not-so-good ‘uns. Not long after I bought it, I subjected my Model 14 K-38 to the butchery of a reputed action job “whiz” who proceeded to ruin it, rendering the revolver unsafe. A new hammer and trigger was required to remedy the mess he made. My Model 10 has always remained in time despite the volume of ammunition it has digested. Also, despite being dropped on a few occasions, I’ve been fortunate that it scarcely suffered much cosmetic marring, much less mechanical damage. It has always been scrupulously cleaned and lubricated which has to contribute to long service life in any weapon. I’m convinced that most revolvers that have mechanical wear and timing problems were not cleaned and lubricated properly.

    In this current age of the concealed carry craze, the atomic powered yet teeny-weeny revolvers and auto loaders reign supreme. Though I have small J-frame snubs in .38 Special, it is a waste of a fine cartridge to relegate the .38 Special only to such products. The steel K-frame .38 Special should be the hottest selling product in the Smith & Wesson line. The cartridge is very capable in its own right, .357 Magnum aside. The fixed sight models are nigh on to indestructible and their sights are far more useful than most suppose. The adjustable sighted Models 14 and 15 give an elegant performance on the range and in the field, and the sights are more durable than most suppose. They are all very easy to get to know and love. They are dependable, very accurate and pleasant to fire. Much more so than the average shrunken concealed carry piece. They may be cleverly and comfortably concealed if some thought is put into the task.

    Alas, it’s not meant to be, at least not in the beginning of the 21st century. That’s OK by me. I’m out of style. I’m also sentimental. My Model 10 was my first handgun and we’ve been many a mile together. If circumstances forced me to sell off the firearms collection, I’d keep a rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun. That rifle would be an M1 Garand, the shotgun would be a Winchester Model 12 12 guage, and the handgun would be the Model 10 HB.
    pistola, wmhawth, OD* and 9 others like this.

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    Member Array Doon's Avatar
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    Thanks for sharing, I started shooting with a S&W Victory same as m 10. I still have it and have shot it more than any other gun I own. A few years ago when J&G Sales had Victory's, M&P's, and model 10's for 100 bucks I bought many of them, I put some of them away for my children. I have used them to teach shooting to a few people. The Model 10 is my favorite all-around fun shooting guns. Doon
    Secret Spuk likes this.

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    Distinguished Member Array Black Knight's Avatar
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    No one's collection would be complete with a Model 10 in my opinion. Carried mine with 125 Gr. SJHP .38 Spec +P while doing security at our local federal courthouse. It shot to exact point of aim and has the smoothest trigger of any of my S&W's. Fantastic handguns that everyone should have. Thanks for sharing your story.

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    Distinguished Member Array dimmak's Avatar
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    I have one with the skinny bbl and the same stocks that came on it from the factory (they show it too).....

    It's been through alot, and I love to fire 158 gr SWC loads at bowling pins with it....

    They are sweet revolvers and full of class, my wife calls it my Barney Fife gun which is actually a term of endearment as she loves The Andy Griffith Show.....

    Thanks for a great post.....
    "Ray Nagin is a colossal disappointment" - NRA/ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox.


    "...be water, my friend."

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    Member Array Gary Brommeland's Avatar
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    Yeah - no question about it - a bull barrel model 10 is one of the finest handguns ever made. I wish I still had one...

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    Member Array Erich's Avatar
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    Thanks for a classic (not "shopworn") post. A fine bit of writing that has certainly inspired a number of people on various boards to look with new eyes at a fine piece of firearms history and engineering.

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    Array Stephen A. Camp's Avatar
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    Hello. As Erich said, thanks very much for a really good post.

    Best.

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    Member Array franktait's Avatar
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    Smile I've had my model 10 since 1979

    Jager gunsmithing of Jenkintown PA (later moved to NC) did the action job on my model 10 heavy barrel back in 1980 - smoothest revolver double action I've ever felt - then or since - Mostly a safe queen now - but I pull it out for IDPA every now and again and as a training example when helping new shooters decide whether to pick a revolver or a semi-auto. I use this as the next step up from .22's. With 148gr wadcutters - this is a very easy gun for a new shooter.

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    Member Array Geezer's Avatar
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    Model 10 and 18 Smiths are my favorites - pure class.

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    VIP Member Array sgtD's Avatar
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    Great story. Thanks for posting it.

    I had one of the pre-model 10 military & police versions. It was one of the most accurate pistols I have ever fired with fixed sites. POA was pretty much POI at most ranges inside 25 yds.

    I needed some money last year and sold it. Maybe I'll get another someday.
    When you've got 'em by the balls, their hearts & minds will follow. Semper Fi.

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    Thanks for posting...a great story about a classic.

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    Senior Member Array Bullet1234's Avatar
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    I agree with the Black Knight, "No one's collection would be complete without a Model 10 in my opinion",,,
    I have a S&W 10 4 nickel finish that I purchased from my local PD when they change to autos about
    20+ years ago,,, great fun gun,,,, but I hope to add many more weapons to my collection.
    “A few elitists shouldn't rule the many. ”
    Better to have a 380 in your pocket than a 45 at HOME.
    When seconds count, police are minutes away.

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    Distinguished Member Array Knightrider's Avatar
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    My father has one. I like it but can't stand the factory grips. It is way too small for my hands. I wonder what grips are out there for the model 10 that I could buy.
    Glock: G22 .40 S&W and G23 .40 S&W Sig Sauer: P938 9mm Smith and Wesson: Model 437 .38 Spl and Sigma SW9VE 9mm

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    Hey Knightrider;

    Thanks for replying to this old thread. Got just the suggestion for you. I'm no fan of most aftermarket grips and accessories but the Tyler T-Grip adapter represents a worthwhile improvement for me.

    A couple of years after obtaining this revolver I purchased a set of K-Frame target stocks as would have equipped the Model 19 .357 Magnum. They were popular at the time and I thought the over-sized grips would be more hand-filling since I have fairly large hands.

    Only thing is, I never really cozied up to those grips. They were great for deliberate single action shooting but didn't do it for me when using the revolver in double-action mode. Even though I have long fingers they seemed like too much of a good thing. They also were more detrimental for concealment. So after a couple of years of using them I stuck the original stock panels back on the revolver.

    I avoided the grip adapters, both Tyler T-Grip and Pachmayr, like the plague. They looked hideous to my way of thinking. I was uninterested in even testing them for any beneficial attributes they might provide as an aid for shooting.

    More recently I ran onto this older T-Grip in it's box so stuck it on the revolver just to see what the fuss was all about. The improved feel was startling to someone who thought he was very happy with the factory configuration which had become so familiar over the years. A few weeks of shooting left me with the notion that I'd try the T-Grip for a longer term and give it a chance before taking it off. Well, I'm coming up on two years with the revolver so equipped and it has stayed put. I really like shooting with the accessory grip adapter, both single-action and double action. Over the years I've shot this gun with several different popular aftermarket grips of all types: over-sized target, finger groove, Pachmayr rubber but never saw any of them as a worthwhile improvement. It took me 30 years to come to the conclusion that the T-Grip was worthwhile.

    Now, many revolver aficionados love the grip adapters for their "retro" look and they are highly sought after. I still think they look hideous on the gun but they do work as advertised, at least for me. At least the factory stock panels may be retained and concealment is not compromised.

    I liked the T-Grip so well on this revolver that I acquired a couple more, for a Model 642 and for a Colt Detective Special. By then the Tyler company was in dire straits furnishing the T-Grips and they were hard to find. I actually found the J-Frame T-Grip used right here on the Forum. The T-Grip works really well on these two revolvers too and control was much improved. The increased control provided also mitigates recoil with the light Model 642 to some extent.

    Supposedly the Tyler company has straightened out it's supply and delivery problems but I don't know this for certain.
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    Distinguished Member Array Knightrider's Avatar
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    That looks nice! Thanks!
    Glock: G22 .40 S&W and G23 .40 S&W Sig Sauer: P938 9mm Smith and Wesson: Model 437 .38 Spl and Sigma SW9VE 9mm

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