The J-frame Smith & Wesson revolver is a must-have carry gun in my book. I’ve been carrying a model 642 as a backup both on and off duty for almost fifteen years now. There are a lot of nifty little auto pistols on the market today, but none of them come out of the front pocket quite as readily an internal hammer J-frame. Of course, there are drawbacks to everything. If you want a quality, 15-ounce pocket gun, sacrifices must be made. As is necessary for reliable ignition, the DAO trigger pull on these little revolvers is heavy and that makes them somewhat more difficult to shoot. For the sake of concealability, the stocks are tiny and even the rubber ones are hard on larger hands like mine when firing +P loads. Another negative of small .38 Special revolvers is occasionally sticky extraction of spent brass. This is especially true when using the hotter defensive rounds. These guns have been popular for so many decades, I think it’s safe to say that defensive handgunners have readily accepted these seemingly necessary compromises. Maybe we don’t have to compromise as much anymore. These issues are addressed very well by the Smith & Wesson Performance Center model 642. The action is tuned to smooth out the trigger pull significantly. It’s still relatively heavy compared to a full size hammer-fired revolver, but much easier to run quickly than the standard J-frame double action trigger. The synthetic stocks are rigid except for a cushioned area in the front where the middle finger grips the gun. They are only slightly larger than the grips on my standard 642, but because of their shape, allow for a much improved grab factor. The 642 PC’s cylinder is cut to accept full moon clips. Three were included with this gun and more can be purchased from the Smith & Wesson store. The gun can be fired with or without them. Without the clips, the gun works just as any other model 642, but the clips allow for much more consistent extraction of brass and much quicker reloading. Also, moon clips are less bulky and easier to carry than speedloaders for those who don’t mind having a few extra rounds on their person. Other features of the 642 PC are wood grip inserts as well as polished trigger, cylinder flutes, thumb piece and side screws. These features are purely aesthetic, of course, but it’s hard to hate the way this gun looks. All of this for only about $100 over a standard model 642.
At The Range
Shooting a five-shot 25-yard group off of a rest with a gun like this is senseless. That’s not really what they’re for, though they may in extreme circumstances be called on for a long shot. For most people, J-Frames are self defense revolvers for common self defense distances, which are three feet to seven yards or thereabouts. They are excellent backup guns, but do not serve the role of primary sidearm compared to the plastic ballistic clown cars to which we’ve become accustomed.
Still, some practical testing is required. Starting from low ready on the tone, I put five rounds inside the ‘9’ ring in 1.47 seconds on a standard B-27 target. That was from the strong side. The stars must have aligned just right on that run because none of my other attempts were under 1.9. From the weak side, the best time was 2.32 with one shot creeping just outside the main group into the ‘8’ ring. All of these strings were shot with 125 grain Remington Golden Saber +P. Five shots of this ammunition averaged 887 fps over the chronograph. One thing I always struggled to accomplish with my old 642 is consistent hits on a 1/3-size Pepper Popper at 25 yards. I thought I’d give the Performance Center’s slicked-up trigger a chance at it. The first cylinder, I hit 4/5. The second was 5/5. The Performance Center has really tuned up the 642, both in aesthetics and practical effectiveness.
There will always be a few discriminating gun owners looking for improvements to already good stuff. That is absolutely the case here. S&W has taken a proven design and greatly enhanced it. The result is an advantage to the end user in a pocket gun that is easier to shoot effectively, easier to manage during recoil and extracts that long .38 Special brass consistently. I’d better get pictures now. I have a feeling this pretty pocket gun will soon be seeing some serious holster wear.