Sunday, August 31, 2008

Smith & Wesson Competition Pistols Part II: The Model 952

Smith & Wesson has billed the Model 952 as the most accurate 9mm in the world. That’s a pretty bold statement and it might be true, but not when the pistol is in my hands. This baby sings but a better producer than me could undoubted get it to sing tighter.

Let’s start with the specs:

Model: 952

Caliber: 9mm

Capacity: 9+1 Rounds

Barrel Length: 5"

Front Sight: Black Post Sight

Rear Sight: Adjustable

Grip: Wood Grips

External Safety: Slide Mounted

Frame: Large

Finish: Satin Stainless with Matte Accents

Overall Length: 8 3/4"

Material: Stainless Steel

Weight Empty: 41 oz.

Before we forge ahead with the 952 let’s examine its pedigree. Anyone who knows me knows that I like history; so sit back and relax while I bore you with some S&W trivia.
Smith & Wesson began its foray into center fire semi-automatic pistol in 1913 with the model 35 which was produced from 1913 to 1921. There was a very strange grip safety located on the front strap and she fired the now obsolete .35 S&W cartridge. People did not rush to purchase the model 35 and Smith & Wesson dropped it from their catalogue after 8 years. Just about every handgun manufacturer produced a small .32 caliber pistol and the factory must have felt left out because 3 years later they debuted their own .32 ACP offering. This is an extremely handsome pistol but from what I can tell, this pistol did not even merit a name or model number designation. Supica/Nahas’ superb book, Standard Catalogue of Smith & Wesson 3rd Edition just refers to it as the Smith & Wesson .32 Semi-automatic Pistol. There are some excellent photos on (where I lifted the photo used here) and nowhere on this pistol is there a model designation. While this pistol remained in the S&W catalogue for 12 years only 957 were ever made. Compare this with the Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless in .32 ACP in which was manufactured in boat loads and actually saw service in WWII (and probably WWI unofficially).

19 years after the demise of their .32 ACP Smith & Wesson found center fire success with the introduction of the model 39. The 39 was a four inch barreled service pistol with fixed sights which fired in double action (what has now become known as Traditional Double Action where the first round is fired with the long double action trigger pull; after that the slide retraction cocked the pistol and the remaining shots were fired in the single action mode). The 39 was engineered in hopes of winning a military contract as the Pentagon was looking to replace the venerable Colt Model 1911 .45 ACP with a 9mm pistol. The military eventually decided to refurbish their stock of 1911s and did not purchase the S&W 39 although there is some evidence that a few of them wound up in specialized units in Southeast Asia, some fitted with silencers. While the military did not choose the model 39 police departments did. The 39 was also a handsome pistol that had a distinctive business-like appearance and an appealing arched back strap. A feature that hit it off with many police departments was the fact that they pistol held 8+1 rounds of ammo. A patrol officer carrying the 39 with two spare magazines had 25 rounds at their disposal instead of the 18 rounds that revolver carrying cop had. For a highway patrolman (I am referring to the late 1950’s so the use of the politically incorrect gender reference is historically accurate) who encountered an armed suspect and was far away from a back up unit kept in the fight a little longer with the model 39, hopefully until the cavalry arrived. As the 39 was a magazine fed pistol it was easier to reload than a revolver in these pre-speed loader days. The model 39 was produced from 1954 to 1982 and has become a sought after “classic” (hmmm, I wonder when Smith & Wesson will add it to their “Classic” line of reintroduced handguns?) While first manufactured with an alloy frame the 39 was eventually produced in an all blued carbon steel format and later generations came out in stainless steel.

In 1961 Smith & Wesson came out with new pistol just aimed at competition shooting, the model 52, chambered for.38 Special wadcutter ammunition. This was basically a model 39 rechambered for the .38 Special wadcutter, given a five inch barrel and slide, and configured to fire in Single Action only. About the only other thing that was a noticeable change was the sights which went from fixed on the model 39 to adjustable on the model 52. In those days there was no such thing as PPC, IPSC, or IDPA competition; the only game in town was Bullseye matches and the focus was on accuracy. The model 52 was a big hit until the other competitive matches were developed which stressed combat techniques over pinpoint accuracy. Bullseye targets gave way to targets featuring human silhouettes and sales of the model 52 sales lost steam until it was finally dropped from the catalogue in 1993.
In 2000 the 52 was reborn as the 952 with the significant changes being all stainless steel construction and chambered in 9mm. The first run of pistol was a special production for Bangers Distributors and Smith & Wesson moved it into their standard line-up in 2003. This is another handsome pistol with graceful lines and a two toned finish; the frame and rear portion of the slide are given a high polish satin finish while the forward portion of the slide has a matte-bead blasted finish.

The 952 comes from the S&W Performance Center and features a match barrel, hand fitted slide and frame, and all parts are highly polished for smooth functioning. This pistol is like a piece of functional jewelry; it is a beauty to behold and shoot. The downside to this pistol is the reassembly after cleaning. There is an internal barrel bushing at the front of the slide and, although it looks round it is actually spherical. The bushing rotates freely and will invariably rotate during cleaning. If you don’t have it lined up with the barrel precisely in the position it was in when you removed the barrel you cannot slip the barrel back inside the slide. After the last outing the pistol sat field stripped on my cleaning bench for 4 days until I could get it lined up correctly. And such is the price of accuracy, along with about 2400 dollars. This is not a pistol for the Average Joe unless, like this average Joe, you care to trade five lesser pistols in on it.

Let’s see the targets (all targets were fired on with standard 115 grain FMJ ammunition):
Here’s the 21 foot target with a nice tight grouping on the center bulls eye and the lower right aim point. The wide group on the left aim point is obviously operator error.

31 Feet
40 Feet
50 Feet
75 Feet
The 952 is a jewel to shoot. The action is buttery smooth and recoil is almost non-existent due to the 41 ounces of stainless steel you are holding. The trigger pull on my specimen measured a sweet 3.6 pounds. I don’t know if it is the most accurate 9mm in the world but I do know that the accuracy potential is much greater than I can wring out of it. I am just not that good of a shot at longer ranges and my shooting style is more along the lines of combat (shoot as fast as you can get the sights on the target) rather than the patience driven style needed for bulls eye shooting. If you need one super accurate and rather expensive pistol in your safe, the 952 is certainly a very good candidate.