Firearm of the Week, the Smith and Wesson Model 10 .38 Special

Less flash and more substance please. Things in the firearms community have gotten way out of control. Double-barreled 1911’s, Tactical lever-action 30-30 rifles, pistols with bayonets, and internet gun snobs who hide behind usernames, where does it end? There was a time when a gun just fired bullets and the measure of success was determined by the one pulling the trigger. No lasers or Christmas tree ornaments hanging from the barrel. A simple but effective firearm in the hands of a well trained, well practiced artist decided the fate of those engaged. Back to the basics is my rally cry and let us start with learning to shoot again. Let us start with a great gun that just simply shoots bullets – the Smith & Wesson Model 10.

The corner stone for this gun was laid in 1899 with the introduction of the Smith and Wesson .38 Hand Ejector. This was an upgrade from the S&W .32 Hand Ejector (1896). These guns- along with an offering from Colt – revolutionized the revolver in that a latch on the left side of the gun released the cylinder. The cylinder then swung out to the left and empty casing were easily ejected.

The .38 Hand Ejector was chambered in the under-powered .38 Long Colt cartridge. Smith and Wesson responded by upgrading several internal parts and to the .38 Special cartridge and the gun became the .38 Military & Police (M&P). The work on this gun would not end for many years it just got better. By 1915 it was on its 4th revision and by 1919 its 5th. From 1942 through 1944 they would be manufactured as the Victory Model. Most of these weapons were marked with a “V” prefix in the serial number. Over 500,000 were produced for various countries during World War II. Generally, not always, they are recognizable by the loop for the lanyard under the grip.

For our aviators and crews of the U.S. Marines and Navy the Victory Model became the only ticket home and their best defense, next to their brain, against capture. chambered in the .38 Special cartridges all Victory guns were hard-hitting. Many of the European guns, especially British, were chambered in the Euro cartridge .38-200. If you are lucky enough to find one of these, do not try to shove a .38 Special in it. You would regret that decision very quickly.

Following the war, this gun would become the Glock of the law enforcement world long before Gaston Glock created his first shower curtain ring. It was the gun carried by the majority of street officers for almost four decades. Like the Glock it is not pretty, it is a simple, clean and effective tool. The Model 10 rode on the hip and saved countless lives of our law enforcement professionals for many years.

I had the privilege of being one of the last of an era to train in my first police academy with this gun in 1985. After over 1500 rounds I learned how to shoot, well. No bells, whistles or lasers, just a simple firearm that required someone to learn to shoot to operate it. Yes, I carried better guns over the years. However, after learning to shoot well in its most basic form a better gun can only build on those skill and improve on what you already do. With thousands of Model 10’s and the variants out there used for around $200 or the new ones built by Smith under the Classic label this gun has a few more years before the glue factory calls.

You want to teach someone to shoot? Turn off the Internet dribble. Get away from the Gun Snobs who know it all. Go get a new or used Smith and Wesson Model 10. Get a few boxes of inexpensive .38 Special: go to the range, and let them learn to shoot properly and practice. Don’t muddy the waters with bells and whistles: teach them trigger control, front sight placement, muscle memory, and have fun the way it has been done for decades. When they learn to do it well with this gun then they can learn to shoot anything well. I know because what I learned with that gun saved my life, twice, and it wasn’t on a video game.

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Comments (21)

  1. Was a LEO in the early 80s. Trained with the model 10 and have always have appreciated the simplicity and ease of use. Just celebrated 40 years from academy days and decided to shoot the s/w after 30 years, the gun was flawless and I wasn’t bad either! Love the wheel!!

  2. First thing I’d like to do is thank you for the wonderful article. I currently own about a half a dozen Smith & Wesson revolvers. I own two 44 Magnum Model 29 revolver with 8 and 3/8 inch barrels. I also reload cartridges one load for One pistol one load for the other. One is for closer range one is for father range. My longest shot to actually kill a deer is 127 yards. And my pistols do not have Christmas tree ornaments nor laser sights and scopes. All I’ve ever shot is hard sights except on a 22 magnum rifle that I shoot Beaver with it night. I also own a pre-war 22 K22 masterpiece. I use it to squirrel hunt with. Nothing but iron sights. Also a double nine high standard pistol which is a wonderful cowboy style gun shoots excellent. Have an old stub nose 6 shot 38 the nickel plating has worn off of it of it but it shoots good. And getting down to what you posted the model 10. It looks just a little rough but shoots like a dream. My only dilemma is now my uncle wants the gun. I have thought since I’m getting more disabled and I carry a pistol in my pocket I need to get a hammerless M&P 38. I may regret it but I believe I’m going to sell my uncle the model 10 and by the M&P hammerless. I don’t know it may just be me which I guess it is but I don’t care much for automatics they don’t feel right in my hand. And besides when your life’s on the line you need a wheel gun and iron sights and like you said know how to put it on the mark. I’ve been Toten Smith & Wesson revolvers for over 40 years and they’ve never let me down. Well I’ll close and say again thank you for the article. Excuse some of my spelling in this due to the fact that I am trying to use my phone to do this because my computer is dead. Thanks for letting me bend your ear. Your friend in arms Jack

  3. According to John Henwood’s 1997 book: “The Smith and Wesson
    Military and Police Revolver: America’s Right Arm” the .38 Special
    was originally designed by Daniel B. Wesson in 1899 in Springfield,
    Massachusetts, along with the then new K-Frame Hand Ejector or
    Military and Police Revolver. Thus the .38 Special was introduced in
    1902 in the newest updated version of revolver. Just as the .38 Special
    was a revamped .38 Long Colt, the .357 Magnum (1935) is a revamped .38 Special. The .357 Magnum case length is 1/10″ longer
    than the .38 Special and was designed by Daniel Wesson’s grandson
    Major Doug Wesson.

    The classic .38 caliber revolver: Despite the decades of hype on
    tactical high capacity small arms the venerable, versatile, and historical .38 Special and .357 Magnum remain highly practical and
    useful. The average citizen owning but one handgun probably can’t
    do better than this. Too, .357 Magnum revolvers will likewise chamber
    and fire .38 Special ammo, but not the reverse. With a revolver it’s still
    “six shots for sure!” A competent, safe, sane and sensible citizen
    armed with a .38 or .357 is as well protected as most anyone. You
    don’t need an arsenal. In fact, aside from “self defense/house protection/concealed carry” a .38 caliber revolver is a comforting
    companion to carry while hiking in the woods, outdoors, or while
    camping, fishing, hunting small game: rabbit and squirrel, dispatching vermin: raccoon, skunk, possum, or for dispatching a
    rattlenake. For the former a .38 Special 148 grain lead target
    wadcutter, next to a .22 or .32, is ideal. For rattler’s CCI’s classic
    .38 Special shot or “snake” load of No. 9 shot is lethal up close.
    And a .38 Special can likewise be utilized for butchering livestock.
    Long live the .38!

  4. Allen you are a gun poet ,that was well written . I recently the revolver has become one of my favorite guns to bring to the range . The more I shoot it the better the action gets . The times are changing

  5. Great comments ALL. Bill sorry about that, I miss mine as well. Your hurt will heal in time, I hope. DT and KicknBak and ALL it is really nice to hear from people with like minds in shooting. Next week the M14!

  6. Nice article.. I have my Grandfathers 4 inch mdl 10 right here above my desk. Its perfect and shoots the same…
    love em!!

  7. What’s so great about it? I don’t know, the simplicity, the balance, it just had a feel that even the later Smiths with adjustable sights didn’t seem to posess. I had a Military Police with 4″ bbl, nicholed, with a large set of deeply recut and laquered factory grips with a Bianchi golden tan basket weave holster that fit like the gun was poured into it. The gun had enough rounds thru it by the time I aquired it that the action was smooth as silk either sigle or double action. Ah, the foolish things we do as young men. That is but one of many fine ones I let get away. Thanks Allen, for taking me back to the mid seventies, and reminding me what a fool I was to let that one go.

  8. My very first firearms training was on the M-14 (my first and one true love). Later, I enlisted in Police in 1977. We had just gotten rid of the .38’s as being underpowered and had gone to S&W .357’s. Later we switched to Sig 9mm’s and finally by the time I retired we had switched up to Sig .40’s. Still had some shotguns, but for the most part had Colt M-16’s. I don’t shoot quite so well now, but I can still hit what I aim at.

  9. Okay, it’s a Smith and Wesson double action revolver. What makes THIS one any better to teach my nieces and nephews to shoot than my Single Six and GP-100?

  10. Shot expert last time I qualified on this weapon in 1987 or so… Last time I shot expert with a handgun…
    My 4″ group with the M9 was centered on the max score rectangle of an IPSC target… about three inches to low for the USAF qual spot
    I’d still trust a Mod10 over most anything except my personal Mod67…

  11. Allen,
    So glad to see your follow up post on the .38 Special, the GUN and not just the ammo. Always good to see someone that has feelings along the same lines, especially about some of the bells and whistles in the offerings out there today. Today,I still have the same feeling just holding the S&W .38 as I did over 50 years ago. I’m probably not as steady as I once was but who really needs to shoot the privates off a fly anyway. 😉 Your statement of reliability, and the feeling of comfort knowing you have it and knowing how to use it competently, and having the ‘faith’ that it’s going to perform as expected with no ifs, and, or buts. I can not improve any on your report, other than to add to it… the fact that it’s an “ALL STEEL AND WOOD” Craftsman designed, American artisan made, and ‘true blue’. And, as you say, if you learn with this, then the others will come easier, or at least show their real worth. It’s not a plastic wannabe, with spurs that jingle jangle. Anyone wanting a pink plastic gun so you can have bragging rights about the ones you have at home will not much care for the tried and true… unless they try it, of course. Thanks, Roger

  12. What a great review and commentary by CTD Allen on the S&W mod. 10. These comments were so well crafted and so appropriate to where we are today, and equally applicable to many other facets of our lives. Aviation is one of those that hit close to home for me, where the consummer is besieged by absolutely needless accessories that even detract from the task at hand. Doubtless other readers here will have their own parallels with which to compare. There’s little I can add to Allen’s commentary, in either the content or the narrative.

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