Sunday, May 29, 2011

Warm Weather Handguns Part I--The Smith & Wesson 637

Ah, spring is in full bloom and a young man’s fancy turns to ogling girls in short-shorts while old farts like me turn their attention to thinking about which handguns will conceal best in warm weather attire.  Now that the outerwear has been put away we realize that our 1911 or Glock model 17, (or whatever large framed handgun you’ve been carrying during the winter)  just isn’t going to conceal as well under a t-shirt as it did inside of a jacket and underneath a sweatshirt.  So in this edition we are going to examine two handguns that can easily be worn inside the waistband and underneath Polo or t-shirts and one that carries very easily in the pocket.  These handguns are the Smith & Wesson model 637 in .38 Special, the Diamondback 9mm, the Bersa Thunder .380 Concealed Carry, and the Taurus PT22 Poly.

Smith & Wesson Model 637

As regular readers know I have a love-hate relationship with small framed revolvers.  I want to love them but the relationship sours when I fire them.  I cannot shoot them accurately and I suffer more recoil (regardless if the revolver has a scandium, alloy, or steel frame) then I do with a similarly sized semi-automatic pistol in 9mm, 40 S&W or .45 ACP.  But when I spied this model 637 in the display case at Bill’s two things caught my eye.  The first was the 2.5 inch barrel and the second was the price.  Most J-frames come with a 1 7/8 inch barrel which to me is not enough and I feel that the point of balance is too far back.  Many J-framed revolvers are available with a 3 inch barrel which doesn’t conceal as easily and I find the point of balance too far forward.  This little revolver with the 2.5 inch barrel felt “just right” but it was the price that sealed the deal as it was below $400.00.  This seems a relative bargain when it is sitting right next to a model 360 PD priced at over $900.00!   I have it on fairly good authority that Smith & Wesson is dropping the price on their less expensive to manufacture alloy framed revolvers; they are probably trying to make sure that they do not lose their market dominant position to lesser priced small revolvers from Taurus and a revitalized Charter Arms.  The scandium framed revolver does weigh a couple of ounces less than the alloy framed model 637 but you can’t really tell too much of a difference, certainly not enough to justify the more than double price point of the scandium handgun.  I will note that the scandium framed revolvers are chambered for the venerable .357 Magnum whereas the alloy framed handguns are only rated for the .38 Special +P.  But I don’t see this as a great drawback for most shooters as I would imagine that more .38 Specials loads are going through J-framed revolvers than .357 Magnum rounds.

Accessories for the S&W 637

One of the accessories that the scandium revolvers have that the alloy ones do not is the easy to see XS Big Dot night sight perched atop the end of the barrel.  

The 637 only had a black ramped front sight that was anything but easy to see.  The good news is that the sight is pinned in place and a package containing a J frame XS Big Dot sight was sitting on the shelf right behind the 637.  Problem solved.

The next issue to contend with was the grips.  The abbreviated boot grip that comes on the revolver is actually pretty good but it only allows for a two finger hold with the pinky curled up underneath the grip.  This grip would be a necessary compromise if I was going to carry the revolver in an ankle or pocket holster however I was intent on carrying the 637 in an Inside the Waist Band (IWB) holster where a slightly longer grip would not be a hindrance to concealment.   Upon rummaging through my vast array of grips I found a long lost set of Safariland composite J-frame grips with nice checkering, an agreeable palm swell, and generous finger grooves.  These grips feel wonderful and provided a nice balance to the 2.5 inch barrel.  I believe these were made for Safariland by Rogers and I wish they were still available.

The final tweak needed concerned the trigger pull.  We don’t know how heavy the pull was because neither I nor the gunsmith at Bill’s have a gauge that will measure pulls that heavy.  I estimated it to be around 14 pounds while the gunsmith thought it might be a pound or two more.  As it luck would have it I just happened to have a set of Wolf J-frame springs in my parts drawer and the Gunsmith installed them and tuned the action ever so slightly.  There is a fine line to be had with J-frames between lightening the trigger pull and rendering the revolver unreliable.  The Gunsmith felt he could further adjust the pull but I was happy when the trigger gauge was able to register a smooth pull of 9.8 pounds.

As I have recently come to depend on I began to carry the little revolver in a Remora IWB holster.  This served my purposes very well however when I had been scrounging for grips and springs I came across the plethora of J-frame holsters that have accumulated over the years.  I decided to compare the Remora to two Galco IWB holsters; the first one an inexpensive model with a clip that fit over the belt.  I did not like this holster because I prefer a forward cant and the belt clip did not allow this.  Because I couldn’t move the butt of the revolver forward it kept poking me in the side whenever I sat down.  Further, the belt clip was rather large and, if noticed by someone, might cause them to ask questions about it that I would prefer not be asked.

The second holster was a beautifully made leather IWB holster that attached to the belt via a large leather loop. 

While it is a gorgeous holster is it formidably over-built.  The leather loop that goes around the belt is stiff and very rounded.  

This added extra bulk is not needed and tends to cause a larger bulge under any cover garment. 

The other problem I have with traditional IWD holsters which attach to the belt with an external clip or loop is that a belt loop on my pants always seems to magically appear in my favorite spot to place the handgun.   Therefore holsters with clips, loops, and other external devices always seem to fight that belt loop for the same real estate.  This causes me to either have to carry it too far forward or too far to the rear.  After a day of wearing each holster I quickly switched back to my Remora holster.  

The Remora is trouble-free and doesn’t cause you to compromise where or how you want to carry the handgun.

Target Time

First up is some Sellior &; Belloit 158 grain FMJ ammo.  The Center Mass area was hit with 50 rounds at 21 feet.  The Head area was hit with 50 rounds at 30 feet.  Now, this target is not all that bad, but 158 FMJ ammo is not a decent defensive carry load.

Next up is Winchester 130 grain FMJ load.  This target was set at 21 feet and again, is not bad but again, the 130 FMJ is a dismal performer for self defense.

I had big hopes for the Remington 158 Grain semi-wadcutter hollow point +P ammo.  This round has an excellent reputation in defensive shootings and had performed well for me in the past but unfortunately out of 25 rounds fired this is the best 5 shot group I could attain.

Up next is the 125 grain +P PMC JHP round.  Again, the center mass area was hit with 8 rounds at 21 feet and the head was hit with 10 rounds at 30 feet.  I really cannot call these two shot patterns groups.

This leads me to the best target.  In scrounging through a box of loose ammo I found five rounds of MagTech .38 special +P semi-jacketed hollow point ammo.  I do not know if the weight of the rounds was 125 or 158 grains but I was fairly astonished as each of the five rounds made a nice tight group at 21 feet.  This is vintage ammo left over from my Boise days where MagTech ammo was very prominent in all of the gun shops.  Unfortunately of my nearby three local gun shops, one big box sporting goods store, and the big discount store that shall not be named none of them is carrying MagTech ammo. 

The Short Barreled Revolvers Exposes My Short Comings

Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to love this revolver, the love affair did not blossom.  After not even 35 rounds of non +P ammo the web of my hand was battered and extremely sore.  I was disgusted and frustrated.  I could have lived with this if I could shoot the little revolver well but alas, I could not.  Now, don’t get me wrong, at appropriate distances the small revolver is capable of good to very good accuracy.  Small groups are possible at 7 yards and the revolver is capable of keeping all rounds fired on a man sized target at least out to 25 yards.  As I say, the revolver is capable of this; the crucial point is that I am not and I am not willing to put in the time to see if I can possible improve this when there are semi-automatic pistols of the same relative size that I can shoot with much more accuracy, carry twice as much ammo, and don’t cause nerve damage in my hand, wrist, and shoulder.  After about 500 rounds fired over three sessions I was done with the 637.


sully v said...

Joe--why don't you give Ruger's LCR-357 a try. It's a mix of stainless and polymer (as you already know)it weighs 17ozs. and has the Hogue Tamer grips. The weight and the grips really make the difference when shooting +P 38's. I switched from the original 38spl.-LCR to the LCR-357 for my "BUG"--shoots good--carry's well in the front pocket of my uniform pants. But in the end I think your just an auto guy--I also like my other two "BUG" a Glock 27 or an ancient Glock 26, no finger extention, ever--just deal with it :).

Average Joe's Handgun Reviews said...


I searched for an LCR .357 during the winter and still have not found one. I thought it would make a good winter coat handgun. As it was so blasted cold here I figured a .357 would easily cut through the many layers that people were wearing around here. I started out shooting with a S&W model 36 with a three inch barrel and traded it for a model 10 4 inch heavy barrel in 1981. I became an auto guy as soon as I fired a Colt Commander. I just picked up a Ruger Police Service Six with a 2.75 inch barrel. Shooting .38 +Ps and .357's were nothing until I tried a .357 hunting load. That one got my attention. I am going to try to work with this revolver and get very familiar with it.

Unknown said...

I bought one and took it out today loaded it up. Pulled the trigger and all you heard was click. Pulled it again click and then another click then it finally went off and it kept miss firing tried a bunch of diffrent ammo and it didn't make a difference also tried single action and it still went click its like the firing pin is light striking

Alex said...

Yeah that's why I go with the old steel 1.8 and 3 inch chiefs specials. Preferably the 3-inch which is with me in a nemesis pocket holster right now. Looking for a more suitable pocket holster though. With the j-frames you need wollf springs and 20oz of gun and three inches of barrel unless you shoot 100 rounds a week.

I might try the clipdraw but don't have high hopes for comfort. Also might have to pair with MIC type trigger cover. Tried a bell charter rocker but I don't think revolvers are really meant to be carried iwb in today's warm weather clothing- the cylinder creates a tumor up front that can't be hidden by a holster.