The S&W Model 19 Family
Within the context of service revolvers or self–protection, two K-frame families are preeminent. They are the Model 10 Military & Police revolvers and the Model 19 Combat Magnums. A very good case can be made that the Combat Magnums were spawned by the M&P’s but I prefer to think of them in separate categories: premier 38-caliber service revolvers and compact 357 Magnums. Previously, S&W .357 Magnum revolvers were only available in the large N-frame line. Anything smaller would be compact! Whether called “Combat Magnum” or “Model 19”, this milestone revolver began the move to more compact 357 carry guns, a trend continuing to this day.
The Model 19 with 4” barrel came from the box with S&W checkered target stocks and was extremely popular with police officers allowed to use .357 Magnums. Thousands more were carried but loaded with .38 Special because some agencies permitting the Combat Magnum as an approved duty revolver forbade the use of magnum ammunition. The Model 19 4” shown is as it came from the factory in the ‘70’s. It has pinned barrel and its cylinder is recessed so that cartridges fill flush with the rear. On the right is a 2 ½” snub. It was also a favorite among law enforcement. This one is fitted with Eagle “Secret Service” stocks. During its later production run, S&W had abandoned P&R revolvers. Both of these have performed flawlessly.
Model 19 Combat Magnums also became very popular within non-law-enforcement shooting circles. Though some were envisioned primarily for self-protection, either through concealed carry or home use, many found their way into hunting camps or deer blinds with hunters wanting a powerful but compact sidearm and Model 19 four and six-inch revolvers have been used to cleanly take whitetail deer and other game animals for years.
Though unintentional, these revolvers played a role in lawsuits against law enforcement for “negligent training practices” as well as the future development of Smith & Wesson’s L-frame three-fifty-seven’s. In the latter half of the twentieth-century, it was not uncommon for many law enforcement agencies to issue full-power magnum duty ammo but qualify personnel using light .38 Special wadcutters. These loads are different as daylight and dark; one has considerable muzzle blast and recoil compared to the other’s “crack” and gentle nudge. For the same point-of-aim, points-of-impact between these loads can be substantially different. In any event, law enforcement agencies using the Combat Magnum began using magnums for qualification. Bill Jordan’s “peace officer’s dream guns” had been envisioned to be shot mostly with .38 Specials but carried with magnums for “street use”, a variation of the “carried-lots-but-shot-little” concept sometimes applied to lightweight handguns. If using .38 Specials, the Combat Magnum could be shot infinitely it seemed, but not so with box-after-box of full-throttle .357 Magnums. Guns became looser and timing problems occurred quicker and in some instances, cracks began ruining forcing cones. (This is discussed in detail in “J, K, L and N-Frame Comparisons”.) It didn’t happen to all Model 19’s or 66’s but apparently happen enough that the Combat Magnum line was replaced by Smith & Wesson’s beefed up L-frame revolvers. Even with the ‘80’s police stampede to “high-capacity” 9mm semiautomatics, the “Distinguished Combat Magnum” or Model 686 was and has remained a very popular wheelgun.
But does this mean that the original K-frame magnums are no good or are overly flimsy, and just waiting to self-destruct? I think not. My long-term experiences with these revolvers have not suggested anything of the sort. At the same time, I suggest that these are not the best vehicles through which to fire the hottest possible magnum loads on a continuing basis.
I would use these primarily with mid-power .357 loads be they factory or from the reloading bench but if I felt full-power magnums were called for, I would avoid the 125-grainers. Where a 125-gr. mid-power DPX load might be fine, full-power magnums in that bullet weight remain long-time prime suspects in Model 19’s cracking forcing cones and S&W no longer has replacement barrels. My own choice would be for something in the 140 to 158-grain weight. Over the years I have handloaded 158-gr. SWC’s at about 1100 ft/sec that also grouped tightly from several Model 19’s and 66’s. They did not adversely affect any of my K-frame 357’s despite their being shot in sizeable numbers.
S&W’s Stainless Combat Magnum was also popular within the shooting community. Loaded with mid-power magnum’s such as Remington 125-gr. Golden Sabers, they offer respectable “stopping power” in a gun that can be easily controlled for accurate repeat shots if necessary and without undue concerns for the weapon’s longevity. This Model 66 sports the 2 ½” snub barrel.
In my opinion, S&W K-frame revolvers feel and point better than any other. Though I understand why S&W opted out of the magnum K-frames, I still mourn their passing. If you happen to find a clean example at a fair price, I suggest giving serious thought to buying it. They can serve very well as long as we do not shoot full-power magnums by the wheelbarrow load. I prefer a slightly moderated load for range time anyway; how about you?