I finally got to the range with the S&W M21 .44 Special revolver, essentially a de-Thunder Ranch'ed version of "the greatest fighting revolver ever," as AMERICAN HANDGUNNER magazine is fond of saying.
Right up front, other than the fact AM-HAN got the caliber wrong for a fighting revolver — I'd opt for .45 ACP, like the next iteration in the series, the M22 — it's a pretty nice gun. The M21 is a blue-steel round-butt fixed-sight, N-rame revolver with a 4-inch barrel, a la seventeen some-odd generations, if you count 'em all, of Hand Ejector models dating back to the legendary Triple Lock back in 1908. It's a fixed sight version of the M24, which was a .44 Special version of the M29 "Dirty Harry Most Powerful Handgun In The World."
I had Winchester 240-gr "Cowboy" ammo (750 fps, for a power factor of, like 180) and 200-gr SilverTip self defense ammo (900 fps, for another 180 pf). I went to the range to do a Cowboy practice, spending time with my old .44 Vaquero, the new .44 Vaquero and a Marlin Cowboy. After about 300 rounds of cowboy practice, I shifted to the M21.
I ran 100 rounds of the 240-gr Cowboy through the gun double action on IDPA targets at 10 and 12 yards. The Cowboy loads were printing maybe 2 inches high, centered, at 12 yards. I could definitely feel the 240 grain bullet; the DA is still (12-14 pounds) but very smooth, and it kept smoothing up the more I shot. Interesting enough, I've been shooting my 1917 Fitz Special .45 ACP N-frame, which has a world-class action job and really nice grips, so initially the M21 felt a little rocky to me. The factory M21 grips were almost there, but not quite the equivalent of the custom grips in the Fitz. In drills, I didn't feel like the M21 was handling as well as the Fitz, but the groups were right on par with the .45.
My initial feeling was that, compared to the 3-inch Fitz, the M21 with its shrouded ejection rod and 1-inch longer barrel made it feel a speck nose-heavy, even with the skinny barrel. After about four cylinders of Cowboy through the gun, it started feeling pretty good and pointing better, which allowed me to start speeding up. After 100 roounds of doubles, triples and occasional full dumps of all six rounds, I had 5 rounds ourside of the IDPA A-zone.
Hmmmmm...I'm liking this.
I didn't do any reloading drills because I could only scrape up one HKS .44 6-shot speedloader, a situation that should be remedied when Brownell's next delivers.
After the Cowboy rounds I went to the SilverTips. S&W says the gun is regulated for 200-grain bullets, which proved to be the case. The SilverTips were, to use a technical term, dead nuts on at 12 yards, and the gun really came into its own. I had about 30 SilverTips left; I saved 6 to get me home.
I'm ordering a Blade-Tech holster tomorrow so I can take the thing to an IDPA or a USPSA match and really wring it out. The bottom line is that I like it, but not as much as the stubby .45 ACP Fitz, which is one of the finest defensive revolvers I've ever owned. I'm a huge fan of .44 Special, and I believe the fixed sight Hand Ejectors are the most beautiful revolvers ever made. Now that S&W has de-blinged the gun, you couldn't pry it out of my hands with a crowbar. However, in terms of pure fighting revolver, I'll take my ancient Fitz, or any one of the 3-inch M25/625 .45 ACP snubbies. Moon clips are a HUGE HUGE improvement over speedloaders, and I think I'll take the heavier weight of the fatter current barrels over the skinny barrel in terms of soaking up recoil. Also, say what you will, but the current issue S&W adjustable sights are tough and offer you a bit of versatility.
Still, a B+ effort and a keeper!