What do you think the best revolver is? As with any “best gun,” the answer is subjective. My personal preference, however, may surprise you. I have shot quite a few revolvers, on and off camera, and the one wheelgun in my collection I keep coming back to, over any other, is the Smith and Wesson Model 10, aka Military and Police. The video embedded above is not my official review, but is one of several I’ve produced that feature this fine weapon. I suppose some of my fondness for the Model 10 is, at least in part, attributable to nostalgia; like many other classic firearms enthusiasts, the S&W Model 10 .38 Special was my first cartridge gun. I also attribute shooting the this lovely firearm with inspiring me to begin my GunTubing saga in earnest, which is what got me into pistols and reloading.
As an ardent history buff, the original Smith and Wesson M&P is one of those guns I could write a college paper about, but I’ll try to just give you the gist of it. In 1899, S&W wanted to compete with Colt who had supplied the military with firearms since the 1850s. Smith and Wesson made a bigger sized version of Colt’s .32 caliber hand ejector revolver to handle the .38 LC round then in service. The Army ended up ordering a number of them but they found the .38 LC round wanting in power. In response, S&W lengthened the cartridge’s brass case to accept more powder and a heavier bullet, and, voila! The .38 Special cartridge was born. Ultimately, the army dropped their .38 revolvers and would eventually develop the .45 ACP 1911. Ironically, the M&P in .38 Special would serve alongside the 1911 as a substitute standard sidearm for the US military until the 1980s. The weapon was a favorite of pilots and aircrew, and many others who got their hands on one. The British even fielded M&Ps in .38-200 caliber during World War II. The British and American versions continue to see global police service through the world. It was this police service that saw the M&P’s greatest glory. It was the most common sidearm issued to peace officers since its introduction and was not eclipsed until the transition to auto pistols in the early 1990s. With continuous service and a production run that has no stopped since 1899, the M&P keeps trucking along with over six million made so far.
There are many variations of the M&P revolver out there, but the most basic model features a 4 inch barrel, and a six shot cylinder chambered in .38 Special with walnut grips and an exposed hammer. The S&W M&P was the first double action hand ejector revolver chambered in a more potent caliber (compared to the previously popular .32 or similar small caliber rounds). “Hand ejector” refers to the cylinder loading and unloading process. Here’s how it goes:
- The cylinder release is on the left side of the gun (if you’re looking from the gun’s rear, opposite the barrel end), in front of the grip. Push it forward and the cylinder is opened to the (left) side.
- This exposes all six chambers. Load in your .38 Special rounds, and close the cylinder back into the frame of the gun. Note: Don’t attempt this using the “Hollywood Cowboy Wrist Flick”—it will eventually damage the gun. Unloading is also straightforward. Repeat Step 1, but instead of closing the cylinder, give the ejector rod a rearward press (toward yourself) and it conveniently ejects the spent .38 Special cases out of the gun.
The fast-reloading top break revolvers of this time period had to be chambered for weaker cartridges (than the .38 Special, that is), and the stronger guns of the previous era used solid frames that loaded and ejected through a gate on the cylinder, one round at a time. The Model 10 is double action revolver, meaning the hammer may be pulled back and the trigger pulled (firing single action). However, if you are in a hurry, simply pulling the trigger all the way back will turn the cylinder, cock the hammer, and fire the gun (double action).
Although I manage shooting either mode easily, I fire my Model 10 almost exclusively in double action. The S&W Model 10’s single action trigger pull requires only a light touch to set off the gun. The double action pull is heavier, but smooth. Impressive groups can be achieved no matter your trigger pull preference, even with the low profile fixed sights. The fixed sights on most .38 Special revolvers today, as well as when this .38 Special was first designed, are generally sighted using 158 grain round nosed bullets. My carry load, shot for in the picture to the left, was a 150 grain wad-cutter bullet and it shot two inches below point of aim. .38 Special projectiles heavier than 158 pattern slightly higher than with my lighter 158gr .38 Special wad cutters. It was not hard to achieve hits out to fifty yards with my wad-cutter load. Even with a rapid fire technique at seven and twenty-five yards, my groups were only a few inches in diameter. I put some four thousand rounds through the gun—both on and off camera—with not a single failure.
The success of the S&W M&P revolver vastly intensified the competition between S&W and Colt, and I can see why. The S&W Model 10 is no frills .38 Special handgun that performed better in the field than its predecessors, was easy to operate, and more affordable to manufacture than many of its counterparts. While new Model 10s retail for about $700, a fine used model can be had for less than $300. Although there have been several developments in revolver design since this beauty first released in 1899, when the chips are down, it the Model 10 performs like a champ. It’ll always have a spot in my collection as one of my favorite wheelguns.