Smith & Wesson Model 27 Revolver ~ Gun Review

by Josh Wayner
He looked at me and smiled. “Son, you know what’s wrong with those guns like the Smith & Wesson Model 27 Revolver?” Turns out…nothing.

Smith & Wesson Model 27 chambered in .357 Magnum
Smith & Wesson Model 27 chambered in .357 Magnum
Josh Wayner
Josh Wayner

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- They say that it is a good thing to respect your elders. I guess that I always grew up hanging out with older people at the shooting range or at matches. I was popular in school, but I never really got along with the people who were called my peers. I was an old soul and I always had an appreciation for the wisdom that I found, especially that which came from the old guys at the range.

In a way I always knew that their present would be my fate. Looking at the crusty vets and the spry old competitors I couldn’t help but place myself in their shoes as they looked back fondly at the memory of themselves at my age. I was something of an enigma to them. I was young and smart, the very definition of aimless ambition. I liked to go fast and run hard, but read Hemingway instead of playing video games. I chased the next new thing time and again, but loved the old guns from history. It would seem my interests would never settle.

One day at the range, an old guy I shot with asked me what happened to the Glock I picked up recently. Having sold it to fund the next best thing, I shrugged and told him as much.

He looked at me and smiled. “Son, you know what’s wrong with those guns?”

I prepared a list of reasons in my mind, but came up short at words like ‘reliability’ and ‘capacity’ “I don’t really know.”

“Of course you don’t. You’ve not been alive long enough to know what makes a gun stick in your hand. That black thing you sold off for the next one ain’t ever going to fill that place. A man’s gun is like him. A man’s gun has a man’s soul, and son, that plastic gun will never have a soul.”

I pondered the old man’s words and many weeks passed until I saw him again. I thought on what he meant by something having its own soul. I of course laughed at the notion that an object could live, that is until I began to understand the meaning behind his statement.

“You find yourself a better gun, boy?”

“No, sir.”

“Here. Take a look at this. This gun has been mine since I was your age. Bought it in Nevada in the summer of ’53. Never sold it or lent it out and had to chase it down. Never had a doubt in my mind that I would take this to my grave. It’s lasted me two marriages, a war, lots of deer, and now it sits by me at the end. Never once failed me. This gun, and pay attention, this gun has soul.”

He handed me a Smith & Wesson Model 27 Revolver.

Smith & Wesson Model 27 Revolver
Smith & Wesson Model 27 Revolver

I sit here on a hot summer day in 2017, drinking my coffee with a new Model 27 next to me, typing this out 64 years after he bought his Smith & Wesson Model 27 Revolver. I’ve had years now to think about what the old man said to me and what it meant to find a gun with soul. I think that after all this time I may have figured it out.

The gun next to me as of this writing is a newly produced Model 27 revolver from Smith & Wesson. It isn’t a clone or a model altered to be the Model 27, it simply is one. It is a continuation of the old line rather than an alteration or improvement.

The S & W Model 27 Revolver was the first .357 Magnum. Its origins come from its direct predecessor, the Registered Magnum. 1935 was a year to remember, as it was the year the .357 Magnum was introduced and the Registered Magnum was made available.

Elmer Keith
Elmer Keith

Right from the start, legendary names surrounded the Registered Magnum and the .357 cartridge it fired. Elmer Keith, a name you all should be familiar with, was the most prominent designer, among others, of the .357 Magnum cartridge. His work resulted in the popular acceptance of the cartridge and the massive popularity of the Registered Magnum.

Just before 1940, S&W ceased production of the Registered Magnum and so began the era of the M27. Famous figures in both the firearms industry and the world stage used the .357 Magnum. Characters such as Skeeter Skelton, General Patton, J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Agent Walter Walsh, and many others used the weapon and ammunition. The combination of Smith & Wesson and .357 Magnum would go on to be a link that could never break and defined a generation of shooters and hunters.

When I first laid eyes on the Model 27 that S&W sent me, I was happily surprised. The solid heft made me aware I was actually holding a gun, or in the old man’s words, a ‘man’s gun.’ The Smith & Wesson Model 27 Revolver was pure Old Americana. The images of yesteryear filled my mind as I looked over the featureless plastic offerings behind the glass case and then back to the 27. What I had in my hands was something that would outlast them all.

Smith & Wesson Model 27 Revolver
Smith & Wesson Model 27 Revolver

Immediately apparent is the glossy blued finish of the S&W 27 wheelgun. When the pistol came out of the waxed paper wrapper, it looked almost wet it was so evenly polished. No part of the gun was overlooked. Even the small nooks were polished up and intricately machined. Fine checkering decorates the top of the frame and barrel. The attention to detail present on the Model 27 is sadly lacking in today’s budget-minded market where mould flashing and gritty triggers are acceptable.

The lockwork on the Model 27 is just like it should be. The 6-shot cylinder locks up with a crispness that is hard to illustrate without actually putting the gun in your hand. Pulling the hammer to the rear results in a very positive ‘lock’. The final click has a musical tone that audibly tells you it is not only precise, but tuned like a performance instrument. The single action pull is like breaking a proverbial glass rod. The double action pull is smooth and stiff, just like it should be.

I took my time and carried the M27 on trail hikes and out in the woods. It is a heavy gun, but I like that it is. I’d normally consider this to be a part of my gun reviews' ‘possible cons’ list, but this isn’t a con here. This gun is what it is meant to be and it shouldn’t be an ounce lighter than it is. If you want to get something lighter and with more capacity, by all means do so. I won’t stop you, but don’t commit the error of trying to turn this classic into something modern. This isn’t a high-cap race gun. This is a piece of history made in our era and it should be left as such. When you hold this gun, you’re grabbing right onto that history and taking a trip back. Try doing that with a plastic fantastic. The best you’d do is manage to land in the 90’s, which is a time best left forgotten to history.

I was able to fire four kinds of ammunition through the Model 27. All loads were tested at five feet from an Oehler 35P chronograph at 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Readings are the average of ten shots.

The Hornady offerings performed exactly as they should have with the 158gr XTP delivering the most ‘classic’ performance out of the gun and cartridge. I was able to make reliable hits on steel at 100 yards using all ammo types. I’m no Elmer Keith when it comes to long range revolvers, but I deemed this to certainly acceptable and in the spirit of the gun I was using.

On paper at 25 yards, the Wesson Model 27 revolver performed admirably and consistently produced ten-shot groups of 2” from the bench, with the widest groups being about 3” from the .38SPL loads. The 135gr Critical Duty load produced the best groups and was very easy to fire in the Model 27. I consider the 135gr bullet to be an excellent compromise between speed and weight. The 4” barrel of my sample is an ideal length for balancing power and aesthetic quality.

Smith & Wesson Model 27 Revolver : At every man’s heart they hear the call to blued steel and checkered hardwood.
Smith & Wesson Model 27 Revolver : In every man’s heart they hear the call to blued steel and checkered hardwood.

The old man in my story has since taken his own S&W Model 27 into the sunset. It took me a long time to figure out what he meant by finding a gun with soul, and I came the conclusion that it meant finding myself in what I loved. No man sees himself in a plastic gun. But in every man’s heart they hear the call to blued steel and checkered hardwood. There is the image of late night diners and glowing signs down in Nevada as you drive that lonely road in 1953. You ride into that night knowing that you’re not alone because you have Smith & Wesson riding next to you and you know that gun has soul.

About Josh Wayner:

Josh Wayner has been writing in the gun industry for five years. He is an active competition shooter with 14 medals from Camp Perry. In addition to firearms-related work, Josh enjoys working with animals and researching conservation projects in his home state of Michigan.

48 thoughts on “Smith & Wesson Model 27 Revolver ~ Gun Review

  1. Thank you sir for the article. Got a Colt .357 Trooper II back in the mid 70’s.
    I was an Army Drill Sgt then and the security of our recruits had us worried
    due to some “good ol’ boys”.
    Carried that piece daily for a long time.
    Understand well the older gentleman on the article.
    My daughter has it now since my health is questionable.
    But there is that something to its feel
    Thank you Sir.
    CW3 H. M. Rodriguez Luina
    Retired USA Aviation
    Air Cav Sir.

  2. It’s funny how articles about “today’s” S&W revolvers so often omit pictures of the left side of the gun, which includes the cylinder latch and the much-reviled “lock” just above it. That lock feature alone makes yesterday’s S&W revolvers more desirable than the equivalent coming out of Springfield today – just check the prices of a minty P&R (Pinned & Recessed) S&W revolver against today’s version for proof.

    My Dad had a “pre-27” .357 S&W which was one of the first off the line when S&W resumed production after WWII – and what a fine piece of hardware that is, assembled with precision and sporting a blue that looks a mile-deep.

    They just don’t make ’em like that any more.

    1. George

      It’s hard for some one that doesn’t see beyond “a lump of metal” to understand. Of course the gun doesn’t really have a soul, however those old, finely crafted revolvers were built during a time when men cared about craftsmanship and quality. It was a time before the “throw-a-way” , injection molded society we have today. It was a time when folks expected the things they spent their hard earned cash for, to last and be handed down to their sons and grandsons. Men and women at Smith&Wesson were true craftsman and were proud of it., and it’s always been said, that a true craftsman puts a little of his own soul into his work. Sight goes far beyond vision.
      M.A. Hall

  3. Your introductory sentence seems to be wrong/off a bit. Later in the story the older man is asking if you know what is wrong (with Glock; and other polymer-based gun frames). The gentleman loved his model 27 because he was actually holding a gun, that had soul. Your article would be better off asking if you know what is wrong with polymer framed guns, or something along that line in my opinion. My reading of the rest of the article is the point is the Model 27 has soul, polymer frame guns do not, in his opinion.

  4. I used mine for forty years. It’s a bulky, heavy, sturdy and indestructible piece of jewelry. I fully agree with Josh Wayner.
    Henry

  5. What many folks don’t realize is that the old model 27’s (and pre-27’s) were only put together by the most experienced revolver fitters in the S&W factory. The gun was considered the flagship of the line and the factory tuning rivaled custom tuning by the best revolver smiths.

    M.A. Hall

  6. The first revolver I ever purchased was a Smith and Wesson Model 27 31/2 inch barreled revolver in 1970. I still have it, and will never get rid of it. One of the finest guns (and I have a few) I will ever own and shoot. Has some holster wear from carrying it a lot, but it has never failed to function or have any problems.

  7. The article says the 27 is the 1st S&W 357,l
    But I have a Model 19 Combat Masterpiece
    in 357. My understanding is S&W felt the frame
    was too light for the caliber and went to a
    Heavier frame. Love my Model 19 and
    mostly shoot 38S at the range, but it handle
    357 admirably.

    1. The Model 27 (then, The Registered Magnum) came first in 1935. In 1954, the stripper version, the Model 28, was introduced. The K-Frame Model 19 was introduced in 1957, and did have some problems with a few loads, causing S&W to build the slightly bigger L-Frame in the ’80s.

      1. Thanks for clarifying. Didn’t know the date of release on either 27 or 19, and incorrectly assumed that the 19 came earlier … given it’s markedly lighter build and of course the lower model number. My 19 is nickel w/6″ barrel and I also have a Model 18 in blue finish with 4″ barrel in 22 cal., and enjoy them both.

    2. No, other way around. Registered Magnum was first. Later, as S&W changed from names to model numbers, it became the Model 27. The Model 28, or “Highway Patrolman,” was a very similar N frame but with a lower grade finish.

      Bill Jordan and others lobbied for S&W to produce a lighter magnum revolver for easier carry and lighter double action (from reduced cylinder mass), so S&W developed the Model 19 on the K frame. Due to space constraints, the forcing cone is flattened on the bottom in the K frame, and this caused problems with forcing cones cracking when using lighter bullets (125, and especially 110 grain) at faster velocities. As a result, many ammo makers started producing weaker .357 loads; also as a result, S&W developed the L frame models 586 and 686 as middleweights with full forcing cones.

    3. Roger, there are interesting things about the early magnums from S&W as the company adjusted its weapons to real life. One of the problems with the Model 19s when the magnum round was fired as the primary round occurred in the forcing cone just forward of the front cylinder face.

      In order to allow for the cylinder frame to close into locked position, the bottom of the forcing cone is flattened on the Model 19s. After prolonged use with the magnum rounds a number of these weapons developed cracks on the bottom of the forcing cone because of its being slightly thinner than the rest of the cone. This would force a barrel change in order to prevent something very serious from happening shortly thereafter. And in the early history of the weapon, those cracks in some cases were so small that an owner could not detect it with the unaided eye.

      Wouldn’t be surprised at all about the company deciding that the early frame was somewhat light. Still, as you observed, I love mine, too, and they’ll handle everything I fire in them for much longer than I have left to live in this world.

      One characteristic of my Model 19-3 is that on the rear face of the cylinder, the ejector rod employs a series of 6 “lips” around the rod itself to catch the cartridge rims and eject them. Since there is no “star” onto which each cartridge rests, the cartridge heads rest flush with the rest of the cylinder face. That changed with the Model 19-5 which has the familiar ejector star supporting all the rounds.

      Back to the original article, I’m sure the Model 27 is a beauty to own, to hold, and to fire.

      With thanks, Roger,

      Harris Langford

      1. Harris: Those are called counterbored chambers. There is considerable controversy whether they serve a useful purpose or not. S&W no longer offers them, from what I understand, except as a $$ option. That said, when they were produced by S&W they were regarded as a sign of quality manufacturing and tight tolerances. I have them on my Model 19 which I purchased from my best friend more than 40 yrs ago. He’s regretted that sale every day and I’ve put in my will that if I go before he does that gun is to be returned to him.

        1. Counterbored Charge holes were necessary for safety in the days of balloon head cartridge cases. When technology allowed cartridges to be manufactured with solid head cases, counterbored charge holes became no longer necessary.

          M.A. Hall

    4. The K-frames did have problems, but the solution was the L-frame (581, 681, 586, and 686), not the N-frame. The first Smith .357, in 1935, was the N-frame Registered Magnum that later became the Model 27. At the time, the .357 was considered an almost unbelievably high-powered and high-pressure cartridge (it was sort of a logical extension of the old .38-44, also an N-frame), and there were articles in various outdoor magazines that cautioned against shooting .357s without gloves. With improvements in metallurgy, smaller (K-frame) .357 revolvers became practical, and the K-frame took over the .357 market, at least for LE, for about 20 years. During the 60s and 70s, most LE agencies qualified with .38 Special wadcutters and carried .357s on duty. In the 80s, when more agencies started qualifying with duty .357s, the K-frames started to show damage from the steady diet of heavier loads. There were two solutions: Olin developed the .38 Special +P+ (also known as the Q-load or the Treasury load, since it was developed for the Secret Service), and S&W created the L-frame revolvers.
      Then the high-capacity 9mms came along and ruined everything.

      1. Well, not quite on that hi cap 9mm is ruining everything!

        A fellow by the name of John Moses Browning created something called the high power in 1935 I believe!

        It was a 9 mm, and it was most definitely high-capacity! JMB was only 50 years ahead of his time!

        1. JMB was always ahead of his time.
          But the Hi-Power was kind of a niche gun and never really caught on in the U.S., at least in LE. If a copper was carrying an autopistol before about 1976, it was much more likely to be a Colt Government Model or Commander. (For one thing, it was almost impossible to find a duty holster for a Hi-Power.) The first popular high-capacity 9mm in LE circles was the Model 59, which was followed by the Beretta 92. (If you’ll recall, before the military adopted the Beretta, it was adopted by the Connecticut State Police, and Beretta’s print ads said, “Own the gun that protects Connecticut.”) Then some Austrian guy came along . . .
          But I’m not really arguing with you. Let’s just say that the days of deep-blued revolvers are (sadly) gone, and leave it at that.

          1. Intended as reply to Michael, not Old1811 but no reply tag under Michael:

            While the Model 39 with 9BPLE was famously adopted by the Illinois State Police, it was not high capacity at 8+1. The Model 59, at 14+1, was the first DA high cap in common LE use, like Old 1811 said.

  8. A highly interesting article on the S&W Model 27. I understand the intimate meaning of a “gun with soul” and the descriptions of crisp hammer pull and trigger pull.

    I own a Model 19-3 .357 Combat Magnum, blued steel with a 2.5-inch barrel, and a Model 19-5 Combat Magnum , nickel-plated with Smith’s 4-inch barrel. They still have that smooth blue finish without a visible flaw and a 90% grade on the nickel plate. The hammer pulls and trigger pulls on these weapons share that crispness and the sound of, “this weapon, a real piece of American talent and serious business, is ready for work.”

    No, not a Model 27 but still so close in the same family of solid heroes in this age of loudmouths and Shallow Hals.

    It’s just an honor to own a Smith & Wesson.

    With thanks to all of you for a good discussion run,

    Harris Langford

  9. As the owner of four polymer pistols, I have to agree with the author about quality revolvers having soul. I wouldn’t part with any of my N frame S&Ws or Colt SAAs. They harken back to a time before political correctness and professional victimhood when men had pride in themselves and their integrity. Those old timers had a wealth of knowledge acquired on the range and battlefield.

  10. The model 27 is a jewel for sure. Like cars they made real guns back in the day. I have a model 28 which is the plain jane version of the 27. I have had it for 40 years & it has been shot a lot including a few matches. It is a great gun in you don’s care about ascetics. It delivers the goods

  11. Well-written review. Two things should be included in revolver reviews that you missed however: cylinder/barrel gap, and throat diameter. Both have a huge affect on cartridge performance, and the latter determines whether it’s built for jacketed or lead bullets.

    Welcome to the Old School.

  12. I’ve got one and the 0ld man is right. I also have a Colt Python, and that’s a mans gun also. Love them both and wouldn’t trade them for the world.

    1. The Python is one of the all time greatest revolvers ever made which is reflected in the prices they bring today.

      1. Actually, the price reflects the fact that there are few folks at Colts that know how to fit them, and the cost is a direct reflection of the number of man hours needed to hand fit a Python action into a revolver that works. I’m not saying that they are not a great revolver, but I was a Colt rep for a number of years and the fitting of Pythons was tribal knowledge that disappeared as the knowledgeable fitters retired. I don’t believe it’s gotten much better, hence the price.

        M.A. Hall

  13. Although I carry a S&W M&P shield 9mm everyday. I still covet my dads S&W wheelgun. I remember fishing with him when I was just a kid. He always had that Smith on his hip. 50 years later we went fishing 2 weeks ago. There it was, on his hip as always. He’s 80 years old and still LOVES that Wheelgun. When I asked him why he keep that one and got rid of all his other handguns. He said “It fits and has always been there for me and always will”.

  14. Nice article. Some folks will understand, some will not. Some guns are more than possessions. I often refer to guns like the 27 and my old pre-64 model 70, as “guns of lasting fame.” They are guns with soul. Guns worth more today than when they were built. Especially to folks who understand blue steel and walnut and the craftsmanship needed to make them into something worth passing down to your children. My first duty gun was a 5″ model 27. Still have it and would carry it again as a duty gun without hesitation. My sons understand guns with soul. They will get mine someday along with a letter from me outlining their past. These things are important to men.

  15. Well wriiten article. Altho a few more different rounds could have been run thru that barrel. I carry a M&P 9mm Shield, but have to tell you, as he stated in his article, when I’m carrying my trusted ’83 model S&W .357, the comfort level is so much higher, altho it is a whole lot heavier. Well made firearm, and oh so dependable.

  16. Don’t have a revolver that has much sentimental value but I bought a Browning HP in 1995 that I carried for years. Still in pristine condition. Thought I have acquired other handguns through the years the HP is still my “baby”. Will never depart from it.

  17. Nice story, well written…..period. No complaints. I liked the prose, probably because I’m about old enough to be your granddaddy. One question/suggestion, not about the gun; I realize that you probably shoot what you have on hand but would it be possible to mix it up a little more? You used all Hornady in your review and one Sig. How about next time Speer Gold Dot, Golden Saber, Winchester etc.? Just a thought.

  18. Great story. Got me feeling nostalgic. Got me thinking about the older gentlemen long gone in my life, the greatest generation.
    When these men spoke to you, you listened up. It was usually important if they were giving you those pearls or speaking to you at all.
    Anyway thanks, ill be looking to see if the model 27 feels as good in my hand as the man you spoke of.
    Take care.

  19. I have a number of steel handguns in the safe. My Glocks are the ones that get fired 99% of the time. I will take function over form every time. But Glocks are half steel, so there is that.

    1. I would not mind acquiring one, but unless and until Smith and Wesson get rid of the Hillary Hole, I will only be looking at older models.

        1. The little hole above and behind the cylinder release, where the key can lock and unlock the action. Done by S&W in part to appease the Clintons, and then continued because the people who make the locks bought interest in S&W.

          I find the lock and hole both aesthetically and historically annoying.

          Only new S&W revolvers I have purchased were 442s, because they don’t have the Hillary Hole.

          1. Replying to Frank, downstream, because I don’t get a reply option under his post:

            Yes, you can, but it looks like a plugged hole.

            My older guns looked better.

          2. Good point, kind of like “the Dole light” referring to third brake light pioneered by America’s Nanny, Elizabeth Dole.

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