2nd Amendment to the Constitution of The United States of America

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

"I ask sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people except for a few politicians."
- George Mason (father of the Bill of Rights and The Virginia Declaration of Rights)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

He's not Heavy, He's My (J-Frame) Brother..


One of the most easily recognisable firearms to the average person is the snub nosed revolver. More often associated with fedora wearing cops and gangsters of old black and white movies, the "snubby" has remained a popular handgun design until the present day. I originally owned my first snubby as a result of an impulse at a pawn shop that netted me a 1954 S&W Chief's Special in .38sp. It came with a creepy action, bad nickel plate job and custom wood grips. I loved it to a point. Then I moved up to one of the latest breeds from that lineage, a S&W 637 "Airweight" in .38+P. It has an aluminum frame, steel barrel and cylinder and black rubber grips made by Uncle Mike's. I totally love it without question. I picked it up used at a local dealer for $319, a total steal that I couldn't pass up on.

Here are the specs per Smith & Wesson's web site:

Model: 637
Caliber: .38+P
Capacity: 5 Rounds
Barrel Length: 1 7/8"
Front Sight: Integral Front
Rear Sight: Fixed
Grip: Rubber Grips
Frame: Small Chiefs Special
Style Finish: Matte
Overall Length: 6 3/8"
Material: Alloy
Weight Empty: 15 oz.

OK, lets get this over. The .38 Special is a man stopper with the right ammo. End of discussion. It has been proven over and over in real life engagements that using the proper ammo and shot placement that this round will do the job. Are there more powerful rounds out there for a revolver, absolutely. Some people may point to various charts and figures and state that the .38 Special is only a "marginal" stopping caliber. This may be true, I don't care. Even given that the .38 gives up some of its stopping power coming out of a 2" barrel (most loads are optimized for 4" barrels) it is still a good round, in my eyes, for the platform that launches it. For many years the .38 Special was the duty round of countless law enforcement agencies across the country and in its service life it proved to be a very capable stopping round. Other calibers have since been popularized, especially since the introduction of the "wondernine", the wheel gun has been taken off the hips of most of our nations police. Although the .38 has lost some of its former glory it is still one of the most popular calibers used in defensive handguns. If used properly it is more that up to the task of providing stopping power. Hey, its not a .45 and was never designed to be, but sometimes "enough" is enough. There are .357 models of the snubbie available and they certainly pack a punch, but just from the few times that I have gotten to fire them, the recoil from the magnum round in such a small form factor is harsh to say the least. +P rounds from this pistol result in a large report and flash as it is. This will all lead to bad follow up shot alignment in rapid fire and unless you have arms like the "classic" Arnold Swarzeneggar or Michael Clark Duncan, you may want to avoid the hotter load. And in case you're thinking "well, the .380 is all the rage with its hot rounds and pocket rocket designs"...I got one word for you, Ammo, go try and find any. At least I am still able to find decent .38 rounds out there for this piece.

I am currently carrying Winchester Silvertips that are a 125 grain +P hollow point rounds. You will find a lot of controversy over these rounds as they are the ones that were used by the FBI in the infamous 1986 Miami shootout where 2 agents were killed and 5 seriously wounded going against 2 heavily armed criminals. This event caused the FBI to abandon the S&W 13-3 .357 revolver and look for a semi-auto pistol in 10mm, which in turn lead to the popularization of the .40 S&W round (a topic for another post sometime). The lack of penetration due to over expansion using the Silvertip ammo was sited by the FBI as being part of the cause of the death of the agents. Some call this a scapegoat for the FBI's refusal to use ammunition that may of over-penetrated and cause collateral damage as well as not outfitting its agents with enough firepower to deal with current threat levels. On the other hand, some people claim the FBI was right on target. To me, for the engagement ranges that I would envision using these rounds (5 - 15 feet), plus the fact that I may use more than one if the need arises, makes these rounds a very effective round for me. To counter the possibility of over expansion I load a regular .38+P round nose bullet in the 3rd chamber of the cylinder for a "just in case" round if needed.

Hmmm, wonder why they call them Silvertips? Not guaranteed to work on werewolves, use at your own risk.
Click here to see some comparative test data done by a writer for Handgunsmag.com utilizing different .38 Special loads out of a 2" barreled revolver. The Winchester held its own.

Speaking of ammunition, the J frame series of pistols carry 5 rounds. Get over it, if I think I'll need more I'll carry my M&P .40c. I do carry a speed loader. If you have never used one I highly recommend getting one and practicing reloads with snap caps. With some practice you can get a respectable reload done on a revolver. Not as fast a maybe a mag swap in a semi-auto, but fairly close anyway.
Five, count 'em, five rounds is what you have to deal with, more than enough statistically for most encounters. Notice the checkering on the cylinder latch, very easy to operate.

This is a speed loader, they're cheap, buy one or two.

Getting back to the pistol, the Smith & Wesson 637 is a small framed (what S&W refers to as the J frame series) revolver. The fit and finish on my particular piece is pretty much flawless. It locks up tight, the trigger action is smooth in double action and crisp in single action, the frame is just small enough to work as a deep concealment gun and the sight are more than adequate for the intended purpose. Like the vast majority of revolvers, it has no external safety but does have an internal key locking system available for the user.
The model 637 has an exposed hammer in contrast to other models in the J Frame family that have either shrouded hammers (which are enveloped but allow a manual cocking of the hammer) or fully hammerless designs. The presence of the hammer exposed on mine allows the use of manual cocking for single action accuracy (but beware the pitfalls of this type of shooting as outlined in the safety section below). Some CCW experts don't prefer this style as it may present the hazard of snagging your pistol on your clothing with it during drawing. I have not had any issues so far, but see the concern involved. My perfect choice would of been the shrouded version of it if I had been buying it new and paying full price. As it was, buying a used pistol in great condition for what I got it for makes it a reasonable compromise. I have been debating whether to have a gunsmith bob the hammer (cut off the spur) or leave it as is.

You can get the general feel for the size of the pistol in this pic. Notice the different color of the frame (aluminum) versus the cylinder and barrel (steel). That color is a coating that will come off if you you a metal brush on it, I have rubbed of a bit by the barrel crown getting a bit too aggressive removing carbon with a brush and Hoppes #9.
One of the drawbacks of the small frame is that your extractor is not full length, pushed all the way in only extracts the rounds from the cylinder this much. The easiest thing to do is simply tilt the pistol upward (with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction) and let gravity do the rest.

The Uncle Mike's boot grip included on the pistol provides a comfortable and secure grip for the shooter. I have never felt like I have not had control of this weapon even with its shortened grip using this. Some people prefer wood or other smooth surfaces, but I find the rubber or synthetic surfaces to provide the surest grip even when sweating.

The sights are fairly basic with a simple rear notch and front post, both fixed of course. This wasn't designed to compete in IDPA matches or up at Camp Perry.

This is the sight picture you have to work with. Believe it or not this pistol is pretty damn accurate when firing with single action.

I have tried to improve on my ability to acquire the front site by using some high visibility paint designed for weapon sights on the front post. It helps a lot in the right lighting conditions.
Shooting the 637
I think most people are drawn to the revolver instinctively. It is simple that most people can figure out how it functions by looking at it in action. You pull the trigger, the hammer cocks back, the cylinder rotates bringing a fresh cartridge in line with the barrel, the hammer falls, the pistol fires. Simple. No "hidden magic" as with a semi auto with multiple parts to learn and put back together. Need to clean your revolver? Open the cylinder, remove any rounds and go to town. Again, simple. It has a reputation for reliability unsurpassed by semi-autos. Not that all revolvers are failure proof, far from it. Depending on the manuafacturer and quality of materias used reliability may vary greatly from pistol to pistol. Generally speaking, Smith & Wesson is one of the benchmark companies for revolvers against which others are mentioned. My specimin has been flawless in the 6 months that I have owned it and I have put several hundred rounds through it without issue. Very expected, but I wanted to point it out regardless.
I chose, simply due to the cost, on the model 637 Airweight. It is light at about 15 ounces fully loaded, mostly due to the use of aluminum in the samll frame. You will feel this lack of mass in recoil, especially when firing +P rounds. I do not believe the pistol is rated for +P+ rounds and would recommend avoiding any "hot" loads you may find. Muzzle flash can be quite impressive also, something to be considered if you think you may need to use this in a nightime environment. Muzzle blast and report are also quite sharp due to both the short barrel length and also the expansion of gasses at the breech. A lot of people choose snubbies as there first weapon based upon the misguided notion that since it is a small revolver it will be easy to shoot. For the reasons mentioned above I highly recommend that you train with a snub before you ever actually carry it or load it for home defense. The long, hard trigger pull combined with the recoil/report/flash issues above often casuse novices to loose confidence in their abilites when first shooting and creating large groupings. Start slow and steady at a range of only 7 feet or so. Then increase the range and pace as you feel comfortable and you will progress faster than you thought possible. While most of us will mainly target shoot with regular .38 Special roundnose or wadcutters at the range, be sure to get a full cylinders of your full power or "carry" load in every month or so to remind you what it shoots and feels like.
Accuracy is slightly better that what the snubbies reputation presents. Yes, you can get some decent groups in single action fire, double action groups aren't bad at "combat ranges" but if you think you will be knocking down pin after pin at the next bowling pin shoot you enter with this you need to catch the clue bus next time it stops by. The short sight radius does not allow for very big sighting errors and the trigger squeeze in double action does not lend itself to accuracy in rapid fire. At about 10 feet I can easily put all 5 rounds in the torso of a man shaped target using rapid fire. They will be spread from the neck to the stomach but at least 1 or 2 of them will have hit where they need be. To be realistic, when you practice you should develope good naturual instinctive shooting reflexes that put your intial round more or less where your arm is aiming when you raise the weapon into your sighting view. Pull the trigger "bang", more carefully aim the second - "bang". If the target is down scan, scan and scan to determine if another threat exists (wolves generally run in packs). This allows you another engagement allotment of ammo in the cylinder before a reload. (Boy, thats a posting topic in itself for later!)
Carrying the 637
The 637 is one of my two primary CCW pieces (the other being a S&W M&P 40c), of the two I enjoy carrying this the most due to its light weight and size. I am currently using a Don Hume IWB carry holster for it which slips in and out of my pants with ease, yet stays steady enough to draw from consistently. I normally wear khakis (dockers and the like) to work and the weight of the pistol and the holster make its wear effortless in these pants. I normally carry an additional speed loader in my pants pocket of my non-dominant hand - not exactly the perfect carry for it but you make due with what you have sometimes. I got to admit, it does feel like I am Mike Hammer carrying this sometimes, and that is just cool!
The Done Hume holster I carry my 637 in. Great looking and very comfortable as well.

Safety

Another key safety.
As I have stated in previous posts, I have no problem with internal key safeties in firearms. As long as the safety does not interfere with the operation of the pistol while in the "off" position I see no reason to cause an uproar. I have read in a few forums and postings where some people have claimed that the safety on S&W revolvers have been engaged during shooting. I can find no credible evidence that this is the case and would strongly disregard any rumors concerning this issue you may hear.
The safety is located on the left side of he frame directly above the cylinder latch. A small arrow etched into the frame to indicate the direction to turn the key to activate the internal lock. When activated, a small metal flag will extend and protrude to the left of the hammer which provides a quick visual indicator of the safety's status. The safety will lock the pistols action to include the trigger, hammer and movement of the cylinder if locked in battery. The cylinder latch is operable to load and unload the pistol while on safe.
Internal key lock is located directly above the cylinder latch.

The pistol also has a transfer bar safety which blocks the hammer from coming into contact with the firing pin until after trigger has been fully pulled rearward. And although not considered as a safety, the trigger pull when fired in double action is heavy enough to ensure that there is a reduced chance of an accidental discharge, unless you mean it of course. On the other hand, the single action pull is very light compared to a normal trigger and has been the cause of more than a few negligent discharges. A few police officers have tragically been charged after shooting criminals they had under control while using their pistols in single action mode and letting the light trigger get the best of them.
Conclusion
I like this pistol. End of story. It is light, adequate for the role to which I have assigned it, and most of all it has been reliable since day one.

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