Review: Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum

Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum with rubber grips in .357 Magnum

The Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum .357 Magnum revolver, sometimes known as the Model 19 or Model 66, went into production in 1955 and was discontinued in 2005. At the time of its introduction, the Combat Magnum was the world’s lightest .357 Magnum revolver. Today, we review it.

The History of the Combat Magnum

A sensation when first introduced, the Combat Magnum became one of the most popular handguns of all time. The Combat Magnum was the revolver everyone wanted and arguably the finest service revolver ever fielded. In terms of power, accuracy, and fit and finish, few modern service pistols equal Smith and Wesson’s best revolver.

The .357 Magnum cartridge, originally introduced in a heavy frame handgun, was mated to the K-frame revolver in the early 1950s. The revolver was a result of brainstorming among influential shooters. Carl Hellstrom, president of Smith and Wesson, approached Bill Jordan concerning Smith and Wesson service gun development. Jordan was an influential shooter, former Combat Marine, border patrolman, and exhibition shooter. Jordan recommended Smith and Wesson lengthen the cylinder of the .38 Combat Masterpiece to accept the .357 Magnum cartridge.

With target sights and a ramp front sight, this revolver would offer high visibility sights and all the accuracy needed. The revolver also needed a shrouded ejector rod. The new short double action trigger was ideal for fast double action shooting. Jordan also recommended the revolver be supplied with target stocks to help control the recoil of the .357 Magnum cartridge.

Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum with wood grips
The basis of the legend—an original Combat Magnum.

Officers could practice with .38 Special ammunition and load the .357 Magnum for duty. Smith and Wesson studied metallurgy and determined that the K-frame revolver could withstand the stress of the .357 Magnum cartridge. The result was the Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum. This is the revolver that Jordan called “a peace officer’s dream.” It was particularly well-received by highway patrol agencies that traditionally needed more vehicle penetration than urban officers.

The Combat Magnum Design

With its smooth double-action trigger and red insert front sight, the Combat Magnum offered excellent first-shot hit probability. The shrouded ejector rod protected the ejector rod from damage. Hand filling stocks allowed excellent control. The .357 Magnum is an excellent man stopper, so there were no complaints there. In 1957, Smith and Wesson went to a numbering system for reference for handguns while keeping the originally named models as well. The Combat Magnum was given the Model 19 designation and later stainless-steel revolvers were dubbed the Model 66. The Combat Magnum remained the premier service revolver for police agencies well into the 1980s.

When the Combat Magnum was introduced, Jordan and others recommended the practice regimen should consist of 20 rounds of .38 Special for each .357 Magnum cartridge. Court cases and liability concerns, as well as a realistic look at police training, led to qualification with the duty load. Some agencies practiced on a monthly basis, a high standard. They were well armed, well qualified and seldom missed with their magnum revolvers. Wear and tear on the small parts and revolvers going out of time became common.

Smith and Wesson L frame, Model 69, .44 Magnum Combat Magnum
The L frame, Model 69, .44 Magnum Combat Magnum is a 5-shot .44 Magnum revolver.

Smith and Wesson instituted several fixes with a solid gas ring and other improvements. By the introduction of the 19-4—about 1975—the Combat Magnum was an improved revolver. The design of the frame—a cut out for the ejector rod—proved a weak point and there were cracked frames in this area in high-round count handguns. Smith and Wesson then introduced the L-frame revolver. This was a revolver with a frame midway in size between the K-frame and N-frame revolver, but with a grip frame the same size as the K-frame revolver. The L-frame was a good revolver but came on the scene as police agencies were making a wholesale move to self-loading pistols.

The Combat Magnum continued to enjoy popular use, especially among civilian shooters. During its long service life, the most popular issue revolver was the Model 66, a stainless steel Combat Magnum. This revolver is still in use with elite units based on its reliability, accuracy and power. It is corrosion resistant and not dependent on perfect ammunition for function.

The Combat Magnum is a desirable handgun for home defense and those wishing to own the finest medium-frame revolver ever built. The .357 Magnum cartridge is a powerful number well suited to defend against man or beast. A decade or so ago, in 2005, the Model 19 and Model 66 were discontinued after a 50-year production run. Demand had lessened, and expense was another reason. All revolvers are increasingly expensive to manufacture, at least the quality variants are, and demand skill in hand fitting.

Loads for the Combat Magnum

.38 Special Speed
Buffalo Bore 158-grain SWC Outdoorsman 1,145 fps
Double Tap 110-grain JHP 1,100 fps
Federal MATCH 148-grain wadcutter 770 fps
Federal 129-grain Hydra-Shok +P 1,070 fps
.357 Magnum
Black Hills Ammunition 125-grain JHP 1,440 fps
Buffalo Bore Low Flash Low Recoil 158-grain JHP 1,252 fps
Buffalo Bore 180-grain Hard Cast FP 1,301 fps
Federal 125-grain JHP 1,430 fps
Federal 130-grain Hydra-Shok 1,480 fps
Federal Cast Core 180-grain 1,222 fps
Fiocchi 158-grain XTP 1,121 fps
Hornady 125-grain Critical Defense 1,383 fps
Winchester 145-grain Silvertip 1,290 fps
.44 Special Model 69 Combat Magnum
Buffalo Bore 200-grain JHP 990 fps
Winchester 240-grain lead flat point 780 fps

The L-frame revolvers took the place in the lineup of the previous Combat Magnums. Today, the Model 66 has been reintroduced. This revolver features precision machining thanks to CNC technology. The new Model 66 features tight cylinders and cylinder throats and offers excellent accuracy potential. This revolver remains an excellent choice for all-around use.

Smith and Wesson introduced a very different Combat Magnum, the Model 69. The Model 69 is actually an L-frame revolver with a 5-shot cylinder chambered for the .44 Magnum cartridge. This handgun is best served with .44 Special loads. It remains a formidable handgun for specialized use, but in my opinion, not nearly as versatile and the .357 Magnum versions. As of 2018, the Combat Magnum is alive and well and very much appreciated.

Do you own, or have you shot, one of these legendary revolvers? Tell us about your experience in the comment section.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (24)

  1. The Model 19 was re-introduced in 2018 in a Classical model (4″ barrel and flat butt grip frame, and a Carry Comp model with a 3″ ported barrel, round butt grips and adjustable night sights. I just took delivery of the latter, which I had on order for five weeks. It is designed for concealed carry.

    I’m very excited about my new piece, and have lots to learn to become proficient with it.

  2. Started my LE career in 1981 with a M-66. Learned to shoot the double action revolver and you can shoot anything. Because you learn to control the pistol through the ark of the trigger press. This let you be able to handle da/sa, striker fire or single action guns. I still start new shooters on one of my 66s. Because they progress faster than starting on the semi auto

  3. I shot against a fellow agent who carried the Sig. we used an old vest at 25yds. He put three rounds in it, which stopped in the trauma plate. I put three rounds in it with my Smith. They went through the plate and the front panel and lodged in the back. I told him I was keeping my wheelgun!

  4. I purchased a new 4 inch model 66 when I started in law enforcement in 1979. It served me well until we switched to 9mm in the mid 1980’s but being a “seasoned old salt” I was allowed to carry the magnum instead. Still have it and also have purchased a 6 inch and 2 1/2 inch model as well. Now retired, these are still a lot of fun to shoot. One time while training we were to shoot 2 rounds at large gongs at 50 yards. I hit them both times while only very few of the young hotshots with their 9mm and .40’s could hit them.

  5. I own a 686 -2 ss 4” 357 beautiful condition great to shoot very accurate . If I find a nice 66 I would buy it .

  6. Started as a reserve officer in late 70’s. Dept had concerns about sights on Mod 66 getting ‘out of adjustment’. So, they used Mod 65, heavy bbl.
    Hell of a gun. Just wouldn’t fail.

  7. My neighbor purchased a brand new model 19 for over $700 last month. After 42 rounds of standard pressure, factory, .357 magnum it has been send back to S&W. It shaved lead and imbedded it in the tip of his thumb. He is an experienced shooter and was using correct grip. Either timing is off or a problem with forcing cone, I don’t know. I’m not a gunsmith. I do know that others have had the same problem with this gun. Not an impressive launch for a manufacturer known for quality revolvers!

  8. I purchased a used Model 66 while serving with NCIS. It was a 3” barreled round butt model, a police turn in. It was in great shape and I loved it. I sold it to a fellow agent when I left the agency and still regret it. A few years later I found a used Model 19 at a local pawn shop. Someone had reworked the action and it was almost as smooth as a Python! I love it and still shoot it, and have full confidence that it will do the job.

  9. Send it back to the S&W factory gunsmiths. They’ll be able to fix it! I sent my mdl. 67 back and I think it was a flat fee of $75? Call or email them, they’re great folks.

  10. Ditto, except the sub-compact S&W 6906 was issued to Detectives & undercover officers instead of the large steel frame mdl. 59. I still have both of mine, allowed to purchase them upon retirement.

  11. I began my career in law enforcement (1976) with a department issued Model 19. When I purchased my first handgun I bought a Model 66. Both served me well and I never experienced a failure with either firearm. In the early 80’s we transitioned to 9mm semi-autos with the S&W Model 59. But I still own, trust and shoot my Model 66 today. It is a great handgun.

  12. I carried my 66 on duty from 1987 until I went kicking and screaming to a semi-auto in 1999. It NEVER failed to tire. I practiced with 38 specials and qualified/carried +P. It was/is my favorite gun to shoot. I bought it used from a police supply (maybe Galls) in Ft Worth. They had a barrel of 66’s they had taken in trade. I believe they came from the Kansas Highway Patrol. I shot literally thousands of rounds through mine.

  13. I have been a Colt man (Python) for years, but switched to S&W as I made a mistake of selling my Python, now out of my price range and no longer mfg.
    I am happy with my S&W, had to have the trigger worked on since my hands are now arthritic.

  14. I enjoyed the 357 story. I know most of what you pointed out. I’ve carried since 1970. My 357 was a upgrade from a 44 special.

  15. I have a model 19 – 4 in stainless bright nickel. I bought it in New Orleans in 1985 and has been a great gun. The cylinder is very hard to open and I think there is a crack in the underside of the barrel.

  16. I have a model 19 & 66. Enjoy target practice with both. Also shoot a model 686, very accurate. I carry conceal the 19 and keep my 686 near my bedside.
    Initially as a peace officer i was issued a revolver, later the department switched to semiautomatic. I preferred the revolver, was more accurate with it.

  17. I found one at a security firm sale (they were transitioning to Glocks). Best deal I ever scored. The M66 has been my camping buddy for almost 30 years.

  18. Thank you so much for the excellent article. It brought back memories of my squadron being ordered to Vietnam in 1967 and my having purchased a Model 19 as my personal weapon. It was one of the finest weapons I have ever owned. Much to my regret, I sold it in 1969.
    Years later, my wife and I were sitting at home in Oregon, having our morning coffee when the phone rang. The caller identified himself as a BATFE agent calling about the disposition of my Smith and Wesson. He was merely trying to confirm what they already knew. He was friendly enough and went on to tell me that my pistol had been used in mob assassination in New York.
    My expensive custom grips had been removed and replaced with electrician’s tape, the old friction tape type, not the new plastic tape, because the old friction tape would not hold fingerprints. The red insert front sight had been ground off and the adjustable rear sight removed. After the victim had been shot in the head from behind at point-blank range, the gun had been dropped before the assassin walked out.
    The gun was going to be destroyed! It was a terrible end to a fine weapon.

  19. I carried a Model 66 as a young patrolman in the early 1990’s; by the time you qualified with a revolver and speed loaders, you could shoot. I miss those classic Goncalo Alves target stocks. I bought one of the new Model 69 Combat Magnums recently, and while I love it in .44 mag, the factory grip feels like a stub of a broom stick, with finger grooves and dipped in rubber.

  20. Nice article reminding us of the early models 19 and 66, pinned barrel, recessed cylinders, with firing pin on the hammer nose is the standard by which all others are judged. The new ones, are poor examples in my view as they may be externally similar, but not even close in quality. I own both the originals and the new SWs. The current ones are more like Taurus in quality, not bad, just not like they were. I carried the 4 inch in law enforcement, later carried the 2.5 inch in a jackass rig (true name, now the Galco Classic) while on horseback and for personal CCW. Never knew it was there. If you do not own one of the older ones, pre-1982, you really should try to add one. Love them.

  21. As a rookie patrolman in 1975, one of the first two guns I purchased was the S&W mdl. 66 in 4″. I still own it in it’s factory cardboard box, manuals and cleaning kit! WHAT a weapon! It came with the wider combat trigger & grips. It not only looked cool, it was awesome to shoot! All this for $300! A tidy sum back in 1975! I also purchased the S&W mdl. 67 in 4″ stainless steel .38 ‘combat masterpiece’ ($275 and I still have the original receipt!). Back then, we had to buy our own .357 magnum rounds because our Department only issued .38 special to patrol cops! I’ve had offers in 4 figures $$$ for each pistol but would never sell them.

  22. Essentially what you are stating here Bob is that the M19/66 revolvers are fine .38 specials suitable for an occasional .357. No thanks. I want a .357 that will digest unlimited full-power loads. The L-frames make a lot more sense to me and they are equally fine revolvers.

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