Smith & Wesson Performance Center Pro Series Model 640 178044 38 Special/357 Magnum

We got our money’s worth with this revolver, even if it isn’t in most budgets. The concealed hammer design makes for a tall backstrap. Equipped with the rubberized grips, the revolver is the easiest small 357 Magnum we have ever fired. If a compact Magnum is what you want, this is the gun for you.


Revolvers remain a solid choice for personal defense. Many citizens decide they need a handgun to protect the homestead or to carry concealed, and they often choose a simple revolver. Folks hiking and camping also like to have a handgun handy that has the utility to take on feral dogs and aggressive big cats. Not to mention the epidemic of crime along trails. For many who are unable to take an immersion class in handgunning, the revolver, with its simple manual of arms, is a good choice. But revolvers are not found only in the safes of beginners. Many experienced handgunners favor a revolver for certain chores. As a backup handgun, while camping, or for any day of the week, the revolver is a fine choice. Let’s find your best buy among three good handguns we recently tested.

Our first wheelgun was the Charter Arms Boxer 53620 38 Special, $349. Charter Arms rose to success during the Vietnam War by offering affordable but reliable revolvers at a fair price. Our research indicates it was either Colt or Smith & Wesson revolvers or cheap imports without affordable, reliable revolvers in the middle price range before Charter Arms came along. Charter Arms introduced what was then billed as the lightest steel-frame revolver. Charter accomplished this by designing a steel-frame chassis surrounded by an aluminum receiver, with aluminum used in the areas that are less stressed or that have reduced load bearing. Also, Charter Arms produced one of the first transfer-bar revolvers manufactured in America.

Next up were two revolvers chambered in 357 Magnum, but which also fire the 38 Special, the first being a Smith & Wesson Performance Center Pro Series Model 640 178044, $909. The Smith & Wesson 640 Pro is a concealed-carry double-action-only revolver. The hammer is concealed beneath the characteristic humpback frame. This revolver features a 2.125-inch-long barrel, yet it is heavier than the others at 22.5 ounces, mainly because of its stainless-steel frame and barrel.

The third gun of this trio and the second 357 Magnum is the Taurus Defender 605 2-60539NS, $467. Taurus has upgraded several of its revolvers to the Defender status. This is the same revolver as far as action, chambering, and capacity go, but with a 3-inch barrel compared to the shorter 2-inch barrel and with hand-filling grips. A tritium front sight is also added. The 856 six-shot 38 Special is the first of the Defender series, but the Defender 605 is a 3-inch-barrel five-shot 357 Magnum revolver with an exposed hammer. The revolver is more like the Smith & Wesson 640 Pro than the Charter Arms Boxer.

We feel that the Remington Golden Saber 125-grain 357 Magnum, shown, is an excellent defense cartridge.

Before firing the handguns, we rounded up several choices of 38 Special ammunition. The majority of ammunition fired was Remington 130-grain full metal jackets. We also used Federal 158-grain Train & Defend, a standard-velocity lead hollow point. These are practice loads at low velocity, with low recoil. We also used two modern 38 Special defense loads, the Federal 120-grain Punch and the Hornady 125-grain XTP. We fired the Remington and Federal non-expanding loads in a combat course, using 25 rounds of each load in each revolver at 5, 7, and 10 yards. We fired for accuracy from a bench at 25 yards using the Federal 158-grain RNL load and the Hornady and Federal defense loads. Here’s what we thought of each handgun in more detail.

Gun Tests Grade: A (OUR PICK)


The Smith & Wesson 640 Pro doesn’t use the company’s controversial action lock, which isn’t desirable on a hard-use Magnum revolver. While problems are few on most wheelguns, one is too many in personal defense. The most overwhelmingly superior feature of the Smith & Wesson 640 Pro are the sights. These are high-profile sights that would be suitable for any self-loading pistol and are uncommon on a revolver. In this case, the sights are self-luminous iron sights, aka night sights, which are a great addition to this personal-defense handgun.

Action TypeDouble action only
Overall Length6.6 in.
Barrel2.13 in.
Sight Radius3.75 in.
Overall Height4.3 in.
Maximum Width1.4 in.
Weight Unloaded22.0 oz.
Weight loaded24.1 oz.
Cylinder Gap0.045 in.
FramePolished stainless steel, J Frame
Barrel & CylinderPolished stainless steel
Frame Front Strap Height2.2 in.
Rear Strap Height3.8 in.
GripPebbled rubber
Grip Thickness Maximum1.2 in.
Grip Circumference Maximum5.0 in.
Front SightTritium
Rear SightTritium
Trigger Pull Weight Double Action11.6 lbs.
Trigger Span3.0 in.
SafetyInternal rebound
Warranty1 year
Telephone(800) 331-0852
Made InU.S.

The grips are likewise excellent. We have never seen this type offered for sale in the aftermarket. They complement the 640 Pro by helping control recoil. They are softer than the Charter Arms Boxer grips, and while the Taurus feels similar, the Taurus does not do as good a job absorbing recoil, in our view.

The 640 Pro’s ability to take moon clips sped up reloads significantly. The moon clip isn’t necessary to fire the revolver.

This hammerless revolver offers a smooth snag-free draw and shields the internals of the revolver from grit and grime. The cylinder is cut for moon clips. We found T&K Custom moon clips to be a great addition to the 640 Pro. In side-by-side comparisons, the moon clips were much faster to recharge the gun than conventional speed loaders. Of course, the 640 Pro may also be loaded with standard speed loaders, and it works fine without moon clips.

The snubby barrel is fluted. While these flutes don’t serve a clear purpose, they add a bit of style to the 640 Pro. While the barrel isn’t appreciably longer than the usual 17⁄8-inch snubnose barrel, the 640 Pro’s slightly longer ejector rod makes for sure handling and positive ejection. It is just enough longer than the usual Chief’s Special/J-frame revolver ejector rod to clear 357 Magnum cartridge cases.

Firing the 640 with the same 38 Special loads used in the other handguns, we learned the Smith & Wesson Pro has a smooth action. Still, the action is tight, with no excess motion as was sometimes felt with the Charter revolver and felt a little in the Taurus Defender. The excellent combat sights give the Pro an edge over the simple fixed grooves in the top straps of the other revolvers. While the Charter Boxer has a fiber-optic front sight, it is no more visible than the Smith & Wesson’s front night sight, especially in dim light. The Taurus Defender also has an advantage over the Charter Arms in dim light, but not in daylight firing. The Smith & Wesson provided the best combat shooting groups. The sights, smooth action, and heavier weight all contributed to a good showing. The Smith & Wesson Pro Series 640 is clearly a formidable defensive revolver.

The Smith & Wesson 640 Pro’s humpback frame sets off its excellent sights.

In firing from the bench, the revolver was handicapped because it could not be cocked for single-action fire. Double-action fire is most often used for personal defense, and the combat-firing section proved the capability of the Smith & Wesson Pro. Just the same, we fired a number of groups at 25 yards, staging the trigger, something we did not do during combat shooting. We brought the trigger back, almost breaking the sear, confirmed the sight picture, and fired. The result was some groups as small as 2.95 inches.

Our Team Said: The sights are good, but the sight picture is cramped due to a short sight radius. The high, tall backstrap made for good comfort, even when firing full-strength 357 Magnum loads. The Smith & Wesson 640 Pro would be our hands-down choice for personal defense if price is no object, but price is often an important consideration — especially if this is a second handgun, or a backup handgun. In the end, we felt the Charter Arms Boxer was the Best Buy for personal defense based on its good performance and a fair price. If you must have a Magnum, the Taurus is the Best Buy.

38 Special Range Data

We fired five-shot groups at 25 yards from a benchrest position using an MTM Case-Gard K-Zone rest. We used a Competition Electronics Pro Chrony to measure velocity. The first screen of the chronograph was 10 feet from the muzzle of the firearms. The Charter Arms Boxer and Taurus Defender revolvers were fired single action. The Smith & Wesson is a double-action-only revolver and was fired DAO.
Federal Train & Protect 38 Sp. 158-grain LSWCHPCharter Arms BoxerTaurus Defender 605Smith & Wesson PC Model 640 Pro
Average Velocity730 fps777 fps756 fps
Muzzle Energy187 ft.-lbs.212 ft.-lbs.200 ft.-lbs.
Small Group2.5 in.2.75 in.3.0 in.
Average Group3.5 in.3.7 in.4.3 in.
Federal Punch 38 Sp. +P 120-grain JHP Charter Arms BoxerTaurus Defender 605Smith & Wesson PC Model 640 Pro
Average Velocity901 fps1002 fps934 fps
Muzzle Energy216 ft.-lbs.267 ft.-lbs.231 ft.-lbs.
Small Group2.3 in.3.0 in.3.1 in.
Average Group2.8 in.4.0 in.4.4 in.
Hornady American Gunner 38 Sp. 125-grain XTPCharter Arms BoxerTaurus Defender 605Smith & Wesson PC Model 640 Pro
Average Velocity880 fps891 fps867 fps
Muzzle Energy215 ft.-lbs.220 ft.-lbs.209 ft.-lbs.
Small Group2.3 in.2.4 in.3.0 in.
Average Group3.4 in.3.5 in.3.8 in.


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