February 2017

Used 38 Sp. Revolver Contest: Colt, Smith & Wesson, Ruger

We tested four double-action revolvers and found that all had appeal, but some made more sense than others in particular, we think the S&W Military and Police is a working classic.

Used 38 Sp. Revolver Contest: Colt, Smith & Wesson, Ruger

Top: If you want a nice heavy-barrel 38 Special, the smooth Military and Police 38 Special was the best buy and most accurate revolver. Second from top: The Smith & Wesson Model 19 was well made, but it was quirky due to its skinny grips and heavy felt recoil with 357 Magnum loads. Second from bottom: The Colt Police Positive Special was at the bottom of the heap. Bottom: The Ruger SP101 is the only revolver of this quarter still in production, at least in its original form. For daily use, we would pick the Ruger SP101 based on ruggedness, control with heavy loads, compact frame size, and its ability to fire 357 Magnums. With a little hunting, there are similar bargains available at a gun show or used-gun counter near you.

Revolvers make excellent home-defense handguns. They are simple to use and reliable and will come up shooting after long periods of storage. There are no springs compressed when the revolver is loaded, and no magazines to keep up with. The revolver may be chambered for powerful and efficient cartridges, such as the 38 Special +P and the 357 Magnum. For shooters able to engage in only minimal training, the revolver makes a lot of sense. Conversely, many very experienced shooters trust the revolver and little else. The smooth-rolling double-action trigger helps avoid flinch and the rhythm, once learned, allows excellent hit probability.

We set out to find four used revolvers for this Bargain Hunter segment. They had to be high quality and chambered for either the 38 Special or 357 Magnum cartridge, with the emphasis on 38 Special. While most homeowners will load these revolvers with 38 Special ammunition, the 357 Magnum is certainly a viable option, so we tested the revolvers chambered for the Magnum cartridge with these heavy loads as well. Because we were looking for bargains, we limited the used cost to a maximum of $500 counter price. We found one revolver at that maximum and three for considerably less, including two revolvers at $300. We chose medium-frame revolvers for two of the handguns and small frames for the other two handguns.

Three were six-shot revolvers and one was a five-shooter. We elected not to pursue heavy-frame revolvers, such as the Smith & Wesson L frame or Ruger GP100, and we also did not look for J-frame type snubnose revolvers. Basically, we were looking for affordable houseguns that would do a credible job of home defense if called upon. The contenders were as follows

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