It’s time for a break from defensive sidearms and rifles. I enjoy defensive arms, but it seems like a good time to review a classic sporting/recreational handgun for a change — something to shoot and pack just for fun. The Smith & Wesson Model 17 Masterpiece fits this criterion.

Maintaining a Tradition

The Smith & Wesson Model 17 Masterpiece Revolver is not an exact copy of its predecessor, but it’s darn close! Beautifully rendered in carbon steel with a traditional Smith & Wesson deep blue finish, it harkens back to the days when blued or nickel-finished handguns were the only game in town.

The grip frame of the K-22 uses the traditional square-butt frame. The laminated wood grips are the original service-style with checkered panels and the classic silver Smith & Wesson inset medallion on each side. They are walnut-colored and look great. The service grips leave the front, rear and bottom straps exposed. This configuration is more than adequate for handling .22 LR or .38 Special rounds. I would not change them out. After all, that’s why you bought a retro handgun in the first place, right? The gun is a modern rendering of a vintage arm.

The swing-out cylinder is a traditional six-shot. The 6-inch barrel has no underlug and is of traditional one-piece construction. There is a mildly recessed muzzle crown, and the full-length ejector rod is exposed.

The front sight is a traditional plain-black Patridge target sight. The top of the barrel and frame have a grooved, solid-top rib to cut glare. The rear sight is the traditional fully adjustable Smith & Wesson Micrometer sight — no white outline, no dots and no distraction.

The hammer and trigger are both color case-hardened, and the double-action trigger has a smooth face. The hammer has a checkered wide target spur. The wider spur affords better purchase for your thumb when you’re cocking the hammer for precision single-action shots. The new Smith & Wesson Model 17 Masterpiece Revolver features the company’s key locking system located above the cylinder latch release.

Smith & Wesson Model 17 Masterpiece Revolver at the Range

The revolver doesn’t feel like a nearly 40-ounce gun, as the weight is pretty evenly distributed over its 11.3-inch length. It balances excellently in the hand, which results in a steady sight picture.

If you have never used a handgun with a traditional all-black Patridge sight and Micrometer rear, you will find the squared edges both front and back to be very precise. The Patridge has long been favored for bullseye-type target shooting or small-game hunting and also served as the standard sight on police service revolvers such as the K-38 — standard issue for the LAPD — for many years. The extra 2 inches of barrel length definitely helps older eyes bring the sights into sharper focus.

The double-action trigger pull is quite smooth, and the single-action pull is crisp. The double-action pull is in the 11-pound range, while the single-action pull is under 6 pounds. I decided to test the Smith & Wesson Model 17 Masterpiece Revolver with some Remington standard-velocity .22 LR “target” ammunition. The .22 target ammo is loaded with a 40-grain, plain-lead round-nose bullet to an 1150-feet-per-second velocity from a rifle. It is designed to deliver “match-grade precision” and seemed to be a good load to test a precision-built .22 like the Smith & Wesson Model 17 Masterpiece Revolver. If there were such a thing as a “negative recoil,” it would occur with this revolver and this ammo.

Even though the Model 17 has a 6-inch barrel, it is important to use hearing protection — even when using standard-velocity ammunition — while target shooting. I know this because I tried a round without it. The sights were dead-on at 30 feet, with six-shot 1.5-inch groups being the norm while using both a staged double-action pull or pre-cocked single-action one. There were no misfires.

Wrap Up

It was a fun shoot. There is nothing like the smell of .22 rimfire smoke in the air. It always brings back memories of the first time I shot a .22 and all the times after. This is a great revolver, true to the original form but with a couple of insignificant changes for 21st century manufacturing and liability. It has application as a target, plinking, training and — with high-velocity ammunition — small-game handgun. Its design is still up to the job after 75+ years. El Paso Saddlery makes some beautiful, traditional handcrafted holsters, both belt and shoulder, that accommodate the revolver. One would be a great match for a traditional revolver. Now, if Smith & Wesson would just bring back the .38 Special version…

Smith & Wesson Model 17
Masterpiece Revolver

MSRP $997


.22 LR

Barrel Length

6 inches (only)

Overall Length

11.3 inches


39.9 Ounces


Smith & Wesson:

About Scott W. Wagner

Scott W. Wagner has been a law enforcement officer since 1980, working undercover in liquor and narcotics investigations and as a member, sniper and assistant team leader of a SWAT team. He currently works as a patrol sergeant. He is a police firearms instructor, certified to train revolver, semi-automatic pistol, shotgun, semi- and fully automatic patrol rifle, and submachine gun. Scott also works as a criminal justice professor and police academy commander.