Thursday, September 29, 2005

Shooting Impression of De-blinged M21 Revolver

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!


Anonymous said...

Mom alway liked you better, all I got was a chicken. Old joke. Seriously I am very envious. I had a chance to shoot the TR version last fall and fell seriously in lust. Easy to shoot, accurate, and retro cool. Whats not to like

Anonymous said...

Folks, Fitzgearald worked for Colt, his "Fitz Specials" were built on .45 Colt New Service pistols. The Barrels were cut back, the trigger guard was cut out in the front, and I think that the grip frame was changed. dIf it aint a Colt and it aint in ,45 Colt, it aint a Fitz.
Regards, ERB II

Anonymous said...

What's the fascination with .44 Special? Revolvers in that caliber are big enough to take .45 Colt, which beats the Special no matter which way you look at it, e.g., selection of loads, selection of loading components (especially bullets), bullet size (diameter, weight, meplat size, etc.), case capacity, etc. Most .44 Special factory loads are anemic and are rarely loaded with a decent defensive bullet (the Silvertip being a notable exception). And as Mike notes, .45 ACP also has its advantages over the Special in a fighting revolver.

There's certainly nothing wrong with .44 Special, but I remain to be convinced that it deserves the superlatives that are being heaped upon it. I suspect we're seeing more than a bit of nostalgia for something retro and different. I'll stick with my early (S-series) S&W M58 and resist the urge to get a "cool" new .44.

Michael Bane said...

ERB, you are, of course, correct. I do use the term "Fitz Special" probably too generically (and I have seen it applied to both Colt & S&W 1917 vintage guns cut down to mimic the original Fitz, which I have had the opportunity to handle). To be an honest-to-goodness Fitz copy (is that like "genuine Naugahyde?"), it has got to be a gnawed up Colt New Service.

I will grudgingly agree that the .44 Special approaches a cult. Realistically, there's not much selection in factory ammo (ditto for you .41 Magnum guys like my Father) as say .44 or .45. There's nothing that a .44 Special can do that a .44 Magnum can't do arguably better. The .45 Colt has a better cowboy pedigree, etc.

The .44 Special has been blessed, however, with two huge advantages — the elegant, classic guns that have been chambered in the caliber (the S&W Hand Ejectors and later the M24, the Colt S.A.A.s, the magnificent small-frame Ruger Blackhawk conversions) and an amazingly talented group of advocates. The best known, of course, was Skeeter Skelton of SHOOTING TIMES, whose eloquent defense of and support for the .44 Special effected a lot of us in our "formative" years. Currently, John Taffin — another eloquent and graceful writer who has chosen firearms as his subject matter — has picked up the .44 Special torch. I defy anyone to read JT's work without eyeing their .357 Ruger Blackhawk and credit card balance!


Anonymous said...

Anymouse said:
"What's the fascination with .44 Special? Revolvers in that caliber are big enough to take .45 Colt, which beats the Special no matter which way you look at it, e.g., selection of loads, selection of loading components (especially bullets), bullet size..."

Yeah right.
That extra 0.011" on either side of the bullet is going to make ALL the difference in the world!
Get freakin real.

I'll agree that component-wise the 45 has more latitude. Hell, I don't even like 44 specials.
I'll take my mag any day and twice on Sunday. There isn't anything the spl does better than the mag, except leave a .10" carbon ring in my mag cylinder.
For a handloader, mag cases with spl pressures are the best of both worlds.
But 44 vs 45 bullet size??
You've got to be kidding or drunk to think there is a spits worth of difference.

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Mike said...

Thought you would like this. homeworker

Anonymous said...

I thought this page was fixed to keep spammers from posting. What happened?

Michael Bane said...

Oh, Patrick Sweeney whined and cried because he couldn't post comments because he has an Atari running Netscape Ver. 1.0!!!

I turned the anti-SPAM back ON!!!

PATRICK...Safari, Firefox, Opera...


Michael Bane said...

Although I kinda liked the ALL COLD SORE; ALL THE TIME website.

I'm not sure, but I think it may be one of the signs of the Apocalypse...


Anonymous said...

I do not know you talk to at S&W about being sighted in for 200 gr ammo(I have M-21 XXX).The gun was setup for Black Hills 44 Spec. 250gr.Keith SWC THUNDER RANCH AMMO.

Sixgun_Symphony said...

Some here don't like the .44 Special, they must be purchasing factory ammo which is going to be weak.

I suggest that the critics get into handloading. They should also read SIXGUNS by Elmer Keith.

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