The .357 Magnum was introduced by Smith & Wesson in 1935 in its large-frame “Triple Lock” revolver—later known as the “N-frame.” At that time, the .357 Magnum was the most powerful handgun in the world and, with the metallurgy available in the 1930s, required a large-frame gun to contain that power.
Renowned Border Patrolman and internationally known exhibition shooter Bill Jordan, as physically large as he was (6’6″ or so), wanted a smaller, faster-handling, easier-to-carry .357 revolver, and worked with Smith & Wesson to introduce the medium-size “K-frame” Model 19 Combat Magnum in 1955. Metallurgy had advanced enough by that time to allow the K-frame to handle the .357 Magnum pressures, at least on a limited basis.
The Model 19, in beautifully blued steel with plain black adjustable sights, was my first duty revolver that I personally purchased in 1980. The Licking County Sheriff’s Office did not allow us to carry .357 Magnum loads on duty due to fears of over-penetration by the .357 loads then available. So my first duty load was personally supplied 95-grain Winchester .38 Special Silvertips.
Quite a few law enforcement agencies in those days were issuing Smith & Wesson K-frame .357s as duty handguns, but few were issuing the adjustable-sighted Model 19s with their fancy shrouded ejector rods. For a few bucks less, those agencies purchased a more basic .357—the Model 13— as their issue gun.
The Model 13 is virtually indistinguishable from the blued .38 Special Model 10. It featured low-profile fixed sights, a heavy barrel, and an exposed ejector rod. Both the Model 10 and Model 13 were available in blue or bright nickel. Bright nickel is still my favorite duty combat handgun finish.
In the 70s and 80s, Smith & Wesson began expanding its stainless steel revolver line and came up with equivalent K-frame models in stainless steel. The Model 65 is the stainless steel version of the original Model 13.
The Model 65 provided law enforcement agencies with a rust-resistant, less-expensive .357 Magnum revolver option, although most agencies required the use of .38 Special ammo on the street. This is because the hot 1425 feet per second 125-grain .357 Magnum combat load then available recoiled sharply—and the muzzle flash generated in the pre-“low flash” powder days would wipe out the shooter’s night vision.
The Model 65 was my department-issued handgun at Reynoldsburg PD. Our duty load was Winchester’s +P 158-grain .38 Special Lead Semi-Wadcutter Hollowpoint load. It was, and still is, one of the best .38 Special rounds available.
The Model 65 is an excellent-handling defensive handgun. The heavy barrel keeps the weight forward of the frame, which helps control recoil with Magnum loads. I carried it at RPD for seven years.
As I discussed last week, I received a used Model 65 from Century Arms (www.centuryarms.com). Used police revolvers are increasingly hard to find in good shape. My sample is in very good shape. It shows some nicks and some scratches from honest holster wear but that’s it.
My 65 came with a set of duty-style Pachmayr large-size finger groove grips, too big for my medium-sized hands. The stainless finish had been polished bright to the point of resembling bright nickel. The trigger is the smooth-face duty style, with a duty-width hammer spur. The action locks up tight during cycling. The front sight is stainless, and the rear sight is a groove in the topstrap.
Stainless steel handgun actions are not as smooth as equivalent carbon steel actions—until there is sufficient use to hone the parts. This is why I loved the old carbon steel, nickel-plated guns so much. THIS Model 65’s action had been honed smooth enough with use that it felt like a carbon steel Model 13. It is magnificent.
I decided to develop my Model 65 into an ideal trail gun for rough country use. I contacted Hogue Grips (www.hogueinc.com) for a set of grips that would add to the classic nature of this 65, and ended up selecting a set of their checkered Rosewood fingergroove grips.
The Hogue grips fit my hand perfectly and look great. The wood color is almost black, so it mates well with a black leather holster and contrasts nicely with the bright stainless revolver finish. For concealed or trail carry, I chose a black Gould and Goodrich B803 thumb break belt holster with adjustable cant (www.gouldusa.com). The B803 holds the Model 65 close to the body and securely. For spare ammo on trail, I obtained some six-shot Tuff Products Quick Strips (www.tuffproducts.com). They hold the loads flat in the pocket in a straight line, and allow an empty revolver to be loaded rapidly. I use them exclusively for my off-duty Smith & Wesson 642.
Testing at the Gun Range
I went to the gun range with two different Magnum loads from HPR (www.hprammo.com). One was their mid-range 125-grain .357 Magnum and the other was their 158-grain .357. These mid-range rounds are loaded with the excellent Hornady XTP bullet and are quite controllable.
With the Hogue grips installed, the Century Arms Model 65 was a joy to shoot with the Magnum loads. The 125-grain ammo was the easier to control and yielded an average velocity of 1268 feet per second at the muzzle, with a corresponding muzzle energy of 446 FPE. The 158-grain load average velocity was 1167 feet per second, with 478 FPE generated at the muzzle and more noticeable recoil. These loads produce nearly twice the energy of the average .38 Special round.
My test range facilities were limited that day, but I was able to fire some excellent groups. The 125-grain load produced the most accurate group of the day at 21 feet, measuring just under 1.5 inches, fired two-handed standing double action.
The Model 65, while no longer in production, is a great buy for home defense or concealed or trail carry. It is very versatile and can be used for anything from plinking and informal target shooting with light .38 Specials to defensive use with top end .38s and, of course, .357 Magnum loads.
It has been around 28 years since I have handled, fired, or carried a Smith & Wesson Model 65. It was great to be reunited with a trusted companion. See if you can still find one at Century Arms.