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S&W 351PD AirLite .22 Magnum Revolver: Zero Recoil Seven-Shot Defender

Not everyone can tolerate the recoil generated by ultra-lightweight snub-nosed .38 Special or .357 Magnum revolvers. These guns are a delight to carry for hours on end without discomfort and are among the most inconspicuous defensive handguns around, but they can be tiring to fire extensively. However, Smith & Wesson has a much lighter-recoiling alternative in .22 Magnum that has adequate defensive power and carries two extra rounds to boot: the 351PD AirLite seven-shot snub-nosed revolver.

Featuring a matte black aluminum alloy frame and cylinder, this seven-shot snubbie weighs in at a feathery 10.8 ounces unloaded and has a standard exposed hammer for single-action fire. Having single-action fire capability is a plus if you wish to use the 351PD as a hiking or trail gun.

The sighting arrangement is standard S&W, with the addition of a HI VIZ Fiber Optic Orange (Front) Sight. The plain black rear sight is a channel in the top strap of the frame. The HI VIZ is mounted in a black squared bracket, which gives a traditional squared sight picture rather than a rounded one. The orange insert assists in quick sight pickup during rapid-fire situations.

The 351PD is one of few guns these days that comes with very nicely configured wood grips. The grips are finger grooved and are quite ergonomic. While there is no Smith & Wesson emblem on the grips—as has been the tradition in the past—I think the overall appearance looks great even without the emblem.

Because the .22 Magnum is not generally thought of as a giant fight-stopper among defensive handguns, I decided to give every tactical advantage to the 351PD and mounted the CTC LG-350G Green Lasergrips that I reviewed in last week’s column. Not only does the bright green laser beam enhance the psychological intimidation capability of the 351PD, the ability to adjust the Lasergrips proved quite handy as well.

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Testing Out the S&W 351PD Revolver

I took the 351PD to the gun range with two .22 Magnum test loads. One was the Hornady 30-grain V-Max (www.hornady.com), and the other was the one I was most interested in—CCI’s .22 Magnum Maxi Mag loaded with a 40-grain FMJ bullet (www.cci-ammunition.com).

At the gun range, I used the Hornady V-Max loads to test function and reliability. The pointed V-Max bullet is about as ideal of a profile as one can find for feeding into a revolver cylinder. When held in a .22 caliber Tuff Products (www.tuffproducts.com) QuickStrips, rapid reloads are easily accomplished.

You will find that the there is a different feel to the double-action trigger pull of a .22 Magnum rimfire revolver as opposed to its centerfire brethren due to the nature of rimfire cartridge design. The 351’s trigger pull was a bit heavy and stiff in double action, but could still be pulled by my wife.

The test went very well overall, with all rounds loading and ejecting smoothly after being fired. There were no hangups during ejection. I did notice that the rounds were impacting, albeit in decent groups, to the right of the point of aim, running in the 3- to 3½-inch range at 30 feet. Fortunately, with the Crimson Trace LG-350G Green Lasergrips mounted, I was able to adjust them so that the rounds impacted to the point of aim. There were zero malfunctions and zero felt recoil during all the testing. But, I still wondered why the rounds had drifted to the right in the first place.

Related: Gun Review: S&W Model 327 — Eight Rounds for CCW

I normally shoot all handguns from the last joint of my trigger finger, rather than the pad. I wondered if I was pulling the gun to the right as I was firing, so I decided to use just the pad of my finger to assist in pulling the trigger in more of a straight line. When pulling the trigger with just the pad of my finger, all the shots ended up landing dead center to the point of aim. If I was keeping this gun, I would remount the LG-350G Green Lasergrips to compensate for my trigger pull (rather than changing my style after all these years).

I wanted to test the CCI Maxi Mag 40-grain Total Metal Jacket load in a block of modeling clay. Previous tests with .22 Magnum handguns showed that the CCI TMJ might be somewhat unstable in flight as evidenced by the oblong holes left in the paper targets. If I could prove some instability or tendency to yaw in the clay block, it might make this load—which was designed for practice or deep penetration in varmints—an effective self-defense round.

I ran the TMJ ammo over the chronograph. Factory ballistics from a rifle-length barrel showed a muzzle velocity of 1875 feet per second with a corresponding 312 FP of muzzle energy, which is pretty impressive.

As expected, the velocity drop when fired from a 2-inch-barrel revolver was significant. The TMJ load averaged only 1107 feet per second and 109 FPE at the muzzle. But the results in the modeling clay show more ballistic potential than the numbers would indicate due to bullet yaw.

Instead of drilling a straight-through .22-caliber diameter hole that one might expect, the 40-grain TMJ entered the 8-inch by 10.5-inch block and created a 2.5-inch cavity for a distance of approximately four inches—apparently yawing a bit—and diverged off the expected path at an approximately 30-degree angle. The cavity narrowed to a 1.5-inch diameter and dropped down to 1.25 inches for the last couple of inches. The bullet appeared to have remained intact and then exited the block, leaving a slightly oblong hole. Because of the curving trajectory of the slug, I first had to section the block in half along the expected path of travel, then gradually cut thin slices of the latter half of the block to reveal the path of travel.

S&W 351PD Revolver Conclusion

The .22 Magnum Smith & Wesson 351PD revolver—combined with the Crimson Trace LG-350G Green Lasergrips, CCI Maxi Mag 40-grain TMJ ammo, and Tuff Products QuickStrips—makes a formidable, low-recoiling package. And ammo is cheap! Learn more at www.smith-wesson.com.

Related: Learn what to look for when choosing your best gun…

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