JULY 7, 2015

S&W Model 351C – Old Man Gun?

Many years ago, I engaged in a discussion with a pair of my uncles at a holiday get-together. I don't recall the date – I may still have been in the Army or had just been out shortly. They were engaging me in a discussion about defensive hardware. One a municipal copper and the other a cow-country deputy, they both had pairs of Model 15 Combat Masterpiece revolvers. Each had a four-inch gun for uniform wear and the 2" for "plainclothes or off-duty." As I was younger, I clearly knew better. Didn't they hear about the 1935 vintage .357 Magnum or the 1911 .45 Auto? More power, always better. They shook their heads. How were they to know? I'd been one in the "more power" school for many years – before I got some brains. Yes, this is The Tactical Wire – meant for .mil, law enforcement, private security and citizens concerned with armed self-defense. And when would a "tactical" type discuss using .22 RF for self-defense? Consider an 11 ounce, seven-shot .22 Rimfire Magnum revolver. Easily manipulated, easy to shoot without cumbersome recoil – there is some blast – but why would you want such a pint-sized blaster? To start with you'd be late to the game. Fifty years ago, a very savvy gunman had already written about it. "The one light loading that I would like to see would be the airweight model Cobras and Chief Specials chambered for the new .22 RF Magnum load. This is a wicked little cartridge and would add little to the weight of the light models (five .38 Special cartridges weigh about as much as the Chief airweight), and would make a wonderful addition to the "hide-out" field, particularly for officers working in hot countries where usually a coat is not worn during the hot summer months." (p.77) – and – "A recent letter from Doug Hellstrom, Smith and Wesson's dynamic young executive vice-president, says that they are working on the problems attendant to marrying the .22 RF Magnum to the Chief airweight—and there are lots of problems. Aluminum cylinder and barrel with steel liners are indicated to keep down weight. The big problem, however, is devising a method to keep the hot gases from eating through the aluminum frame above the junction of cylinder and barrel. If this problem can be whipped it should result in the perfect hideout gun. It will not only outreach a switch blade, but will pack plenty of close range authority into an easily carried and concealed package." (P.79) © 1965: Jordan, William H. "Bill," No Second Place Winner.
Some ammo is clearly designed for other applications, like this Remington Premier AccuTip-V load. It'll still do in a pinch.
He was Assistant Chief Patrol Inspector of the U.S. Border Patrol, experienced lawman and game hunter. To say he'd participated in and seen a lot of action, including shootings of people and game would be an understatement. If he thought a snub .22 Magnum was a good idea, I'm not going to call it stupid. I'll go further: when a friend was medically afflicted some years back, he began the search for guns useful to people facing physical handicaps. These can include rheumatoid arthritis and other joint afflictions, as well as various heart conditions. As I'm getting no younger, I followed his lead in search for something light, powerful and useful. Smith & Wesson's J-frame line was part of what Bill Jordan considered. We no longer have the Colt Cobra, but we have the Ruger LCR. Both the J- and the LCR are available in .22 Rimfire Magnum. The S&W Model 351C – a Centennial configuration – is the subject of this piece. The Centennial, a brainchild of Rex Applegate, is a double action revolver with a concealed hammer. Fitting a wide range of holsters, the 351C has a large white dot for a front sight that looks suspiciously like the XS Sights unit – in fact, the S&W website shows this gun as being provided with the XS front sight. Quick to acquire, it's more easily seen than the typical j-frame front ramp. The trigger has a smooth face and the stocks are a rubbery synthetic with the S&W logo. As pointed out, it holds seven-rounds – decent capacity – and weighs only 11 ounces. It's no bludgeon. The trigger pull is smooth and not "stagey." It is firm and lit rimfire primers every time.
Winchester Supreme, made for larger revolvers and rifles, shot quite well from the S&W 351C. Hornady and CCI make loads for short-barrel revolvers.
For the trigger snob who has no double action experience, save yourself the trouble. For a double action aficionado and revolvereros, the M351C has an action that's plenty good enough. There are ammo options I've yet to try that are configured for such a gun. These include Hornady 45 gr FTX Critical Defense (factory specified 1,000 FPS out of a 1 7/8" barrel) and Speer 40-grain Gold Dot Short Barrel load (about 1,050 out of a sub-2" barrel). Those are on my list. I shot what I had – Winchester 30 grain JHP Supreme, Remington 33 grain AccuTip-V and CCI TNT Green 30 grain. From 25 yards, the Winchester Supreme shot low, stringing vertically. At 30 feet, it was no chore keeping them in the "head" of a silhouette. The same load at 21 feet gave a nicely rounded group about two inches across. This was likely due to me getting used to the gun. A tiny, 12 ounce .22 LR revolver was hard for me to get the hang of until I figured out the "dwell on ignition." Follow-through is critical with these super-lightweights. The AccuTip-V load from Remington gave a slightly larger and more vertically strung group at the same distance. The gun was all bark. If you could afford to, you could shoot this thing all day. The .22 Mag is too feeble? Maybe it is. I can hear the hairy chested ".45 ain't enough" types howling in outrage. I don't believe that someone who has diminished physical capabilities should be defenseless. If this will do it for them, I'm all onboard with it. In small revolvers, I prefer the .38 Special (even in "AirLite" guns chambered for .357 Magnum). It's easier to handle the ammo with nerve-damaged hands and you get a better charge from snake shot if that's the kind of thing you may need when you are afield. But it's not a simple grab-and-shoot gun. Find a load that's good with the gun. Practice the DA trigger. And stay out of trouble. No Second Place Winner Smith & Wesson Ruger -- Rich Grassi