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S&W .38 Special: A True Classic

A true classic.

I am referring to a Smith & Wesson Model 14 – one of the most sought-after .38 Specials ever made by any company. What makes this fine handgun so popular is how it looks, how it shoots, the trigger, the accuracy and the stories each one of them could tell if they could talk. This revolver started its life in 1947 and was originally known as the K-38 Masterpiece. It was offered with barrels measuring 4-, 6-, 5- and 8-3/8-inches (the one I have).

Around 1957, Smith & Wesson started giving all of the guns model numbers. This one was assigned the number 14. The Model 14 is built on the K (medium) frame, and with the exception of the models made in 1961 and 1962, they are all double and single action. The revolvers produced in 1961 and 1962 were single action only, while all of the others are single and double action.

The Model 14 has had a pretty famous life, as it has served many a police officer, several wartime soldiers, recreational shooters, home defense, hunters and, most notably, this revolver has won many a shooting contest due to its very smooth trigger and great accuracy.

Like most well-made firearms, the value of the Model 14 has increased more than 15 times from the original $70 list price. I could go on for many more pages on the characteristics of this very fine revolver, but I just returned from the range, where I had the great pleasure of firing this for the first time, so I will now describe my take on this gun as a shooter.

Mine is a Model 14-4 with a 8-3/8-inch barrel and from what I can find, it appears it was made around 1977. The revolver has a target hammer and a very wide target trigger that in single action broke light and clean with no creep.

The wide trigger provides a large surface for your finger to displace the applied pressure of the trigger pull. The grip is wood and a target style with a beautiful grain and heavy checkering that fits my hand as if it were made for me.

The metal is a deep blue – almost black – with a case-colored trigger and hammer. It is well balanced and just the right weight for some accurate shooting. Can you tell I like it?

My time was spent at the 15-yard range, as I was not sure of the bullets it would like. Before I ventured to the 25- and 50-yard range, I wanted to have loads that shot accurately.

Hand-loading for a .38 Special was a change from the big caliber magnums and rifles I have concentrated on in the past. Only using 5 to 8 grains of powder was a treat, as the powder will last for many rounds.

All of my rounds sent downrange were 3 groups of 5 or 6 shots each, depending on whether I was shooting factory loads or my hand loads. The gun shot very well, with little felt recoil, even with the +P loads. I could have shot it all day with little to no fatigue. With the long, 8-3/8-inch barrel there was very little muzzle rise, and I was able to get back on target very quickly between shots.

When I had completed shooting all of the loads for accuracy, I set up a silhouette target at 15 yards. From a standing position, shooting freehand with no rest, I was able to put six rounds all in the kill zone without a scope or my glasses. I have shot so many big magnum calibers lately (like the .460, .500, .454 and .45-70) that are very difficult to get back on target after the first shot, that this gun was a real pleasure to shoot.

Can you tell I like this gun yet?

All of the rounds landed in a 2-inch or smaller circle with the exception of only a few. Some groups were inside of an inch. Watch out Mr. and Mrs. Piggy!

A few years ago I would not have considered taking less than a .357 Magnum to the woods for hunting, but after shooting this gun and doing some research the penetration power of this K-38, I feel confident I will be able to cleanly harvest pigs and deer with a well-placed shot.

This is the first of what I hope to be many more S&W K-38s that I will add to my collection.

If all firearms were treated as if they were loaded, there would be no more accidental shootings. Shoot Straight, Shoot Safe!


Jim Hammond has had some sort of gun in his hand since he was 5 years old. He started with a Daisy BB gun as a small boy, and with careful instruction from his very safety-minded father, has become a skilled and knowledgeable shooter now willing to share his knowledge and experience as he has FUN SHOOTING. “Safety first and everything else will follow.”