Wednesday, July 27, 2016

My Time With the .357 Magnum

It may surprise youngsters, but at one time the revolver was the most carried handgun in police work.  Before Gaston Glock invented his plastic fantastic, Indeed, from the 1880s until about 1990, the revolver was the pre-eminent law enforcement handgun across the nation.

In 1970, Smith and Wesson introduced the stainless steel version of their Model 19, and called it the 66.  It was a stainless steel K-frame revolver and by the time I got into police work in 1981, probably 90% of the police officers carried them. Back in those days, the Model 66 was as ubiquitous in police work as the Glock is today.  About 1982, I acquired a clean used one and began carrying it.  Mine was the standard 4" revolver.  It is still in my battery today.

What I liked about the revolver for police work was the ability to match the ammo to the task at hand.  You could use the ammo like a throttle.  Mild, .38 Special cartridges for target and training, or hotter stuff for longer range work.  Back in those days I read a lot of Elmer Keith, Bill Jordan, and Skeeter Skelton's work.  When I began reloading, the very first cartridge I reloaded for was for that revolver.  Target loads in .38 Special.  After a little while I started loading stouter loads for the magnum, and came to settle on a couple of pet loads.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not hating on semi-auto handguns.  I like them just fine, but the ammo has to match the spring tension.  Too light and the gun won't cycle.  Too hot and you batter the gun.  With a revolver, that's not a problem.  From a squib load to the hottest magnum, if you can close the cylinder, the gun will probably fire and extract.

I continued to carry a revolver till the turn of the century, long after most officers had switched over to the semi.  One day right in the winter of early 2002, I was at a training class.  We had just qualified and the instructors wanted to send us through a firing scenario.  It went like this.  On our tactical range, we'd walk through a door and immediately engage two targets to our left, about 10 feet away.  Then, looking downrange, you'd see three targets at the 50 yard line, with a covered position at 25 yards.

The idea was to engage the two close targets, then run downrange and engage the three targets from cover.  But the instructors were nefarious.  The targets downrage were heavy steel silhouettes.  and we had to knock them over.  I was halfway back in the line, and I saw the problem that the guys were having with their 9mm pistols.    They would have to advance on those heavy steel silhouettes to knock them down.  My revolver was stoked with standard .38 special training ammo, and I knew that I'd have problems.

But, one of my pet loads was a heavy magnum load.  It consisted of a 180 grain hard cast bullet with a wide, flat meplat and was loaded with a stout charge of 2400.  I knew what that load would do, and as importantly, I knew it was very accurate.  And, it was visually impressive.  It threw a fireball at night.

So, I walked out to my truck, and got a box of those stout loads.  By the time I got back in line, I had swapped my pathetic training ammo for the heavy stuff, and when the instructor asked me if I were ready.  I nodded and stepped through the door.

The first round caught the close steel target at the hinge, breaking it.  The target flopped but I didn't see it.  I was engaging the second target, one round and it fell too.  Then I turned, kneeled, and engaged the 50 yard targets.  One round each, high in the steel, and they flopped too.Five rounds, five targets, I was done.  The first, close target was broken.

The instructor went ape-shit.  I had just cleaned his course, his nefarious "advance on the target" course, but I hadn't taken two steps since I came through the door.  He was livid.  He was hollering and shouting. It was one of those spittle-flinging moments.  He had carefully engineered this training so that the targets wouldn't fall with standard .38 or 9mm ammo.  I had put the lie to it with my demonstration of magnum ammunition.  He looked as if his head was going to explode.  Then the Chief Instructor walked up.

The Chief cleared his throat. "Leave him alone.  If you bring enough gun, you don't have to walk down there."  He laughed.  "If you bring the right gun, you can shoot them from right here."

That's the lesson of the .357 magnum, a very useful cartridge that can be tailored to a specific use.  It's one cartridge that can be loaded mild or wild.  My go-target load pushes a 145 grain wadcutter at about 650 fps.  My standard .38 load pushes a 158 SWC at 750 fps.  My heavy magnum load pushes a 180 grain WF bullet to just under 1300 fps.  They all shoot from the same revolver.  If I put those loads in a carbine, they gain velocity.  My heavy load goes to just over 1500 fps in the carbine, a load suitable for hogs and deer at 100 yards or less.  The .357 magnum is a handloader's dream.  Accurate, easy to load for, it loves cast bullets.

Nowadays, as do most cops, I carry one of Gaston's pistols.  It suits me, and the department, just fine.  But that doesn't mean that the .357 revolver is obsolete.  It has found it's niche in places other than a lawman's belt.  We still see them in hunting camps and pickup trucks, and in gun safes and gun shops all over the country.  If you're looking for a handgun that can go from mild to wild, the .357 magnum might be a good place to look.


Anonymous said...

The MI State Police used to carry a long-barelled M66. I think it was more visually impressive than the autoloader they carry now.

There'a several .357s around here, Ruger Blackhawks, and S&W M19s. And I just lost the chance to pick up a nickel M27 3.5 inch revolver.

I started reloading .38s for one of the Blackhawks in 1979.

Steve Ronin said...

I miss the Model 66 I was once issued.

I've been looking for another or a Ruger Security Six...

but they're pricey at $500-700+

Joe Mama said...

You sound like an old tanker: Bring a cannon and don't let the opposing force suck you into a fire sack.

Old NFO said...

ROTF, oh that HAD to be interesting to watch the instructor go bat nuts... But you DID beat the scenario... And yes, pistols, in the hands of someone that knows what they are doing ARE effective at 50 yards and beyond!

Murphy's Law said...

Got three--A Model 66, A Model 19, and a Model a Marlin lever-gun. LOVE the caliber and the guns themselves.

Can relate to the range tale, too. Last place I worked where they set up a revolver qualification course, it was geared for off-duty guns and most people had the new Ruger plastic .38 snubbies. I showed up with my S&W Model 58 4" and some hot loads I'd made up for it. First string of fire: "Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! BA-WHOOM!!!" Let's just say that the old .41 Magnum carried a bit more authority down range...and left a LOT more noise and smoke behind. Naturally, a cease-fire was called and the .41 was ejected from the range and I had to transition to the Model 66, which I just happened to have handy.

Range master to me: "Can you ever just come in here with normal guns and just be normal?"

Fun times!

Rivrdog said...

As an LEO retired 13 years, I was one of the last Deputies to get a Glock. My Security Six was "grandfathered", one of only two. I carried the Ruger until '89, went to a G17 on Patrol, but then transferred to Transports where they liked G23s. Fotay Showtay. My off-duty was a SP101 357.

Went to LEOSA qual in June with a G19 and pinked the qual. Got out a 4" Ruger Service Six 38 and put 500 rds thru it to practice up. Passed the qual in July with it, only revolver on the range!

For the coming urban combat, I will have a G22 converted to 357SIG, 125 FMJ-FN or a Ruger GP100 6" 357, hi-viz sights & Buffalo Bore Heavy Outdoorsman ammo. I practice on both at the Metal Silhouette range at my club, on the Ram @ 100 yds. I clang 4 of 6 most days, five on good days and only ever one six. Bullet drop is 6-8" with both.

Robert Fowler said...

I started loading 38's in 1976 with a lee loader. Since then I've upgraded my reloading. Over the years I've owned sever Ruger Security Sixes. I still have a 4" in the safe.

After I became a gun dealer, I acquired a nice model 19 4" that I still kick myself for letting get away. It was well cared for and just as accurate as the day it left the factory. I used it to qualify for my carry permit.