The Magnum

I remember as a boy people used to identify particular guns as “a magnum”. Not .357 not .44, just “a magnum.” You hear that in movies sometimes. It’s a word that drives home a particular point: this gun is a lot more powerful than any other.

My first exposure to the term was a toy cap gun as a kid that was modeled after what I now know to be Colt’s Python .357 Magnum. It was different from other cap guns because it was called “Magnum.” I ran up and showed it to my dad as he was getting out of his car from work one day. “That’s a magnum!” he says. Just looked vicious with it’s vented rib and full underlug along the underside of the barrel. 😉

But anyway, today when people (police and citizen) want “more firepower” they want more rounds crammed into their gun. 30 years ago, however, when somebody wanted “more firepower” they focused on the power behind the rounds they placed. To this end, if the .38 Special wasn’t enough, then the cop or citizen upgraded to “a magnum.” Typically it was a .357 Magnum. Originally designed in 1935 as a more powerful alternative to the .38 Special. Interestingly, the .357 Magnum found heavier following at the time among big game hunters than it did policemen due to the size and weight of the Smith & Wesson N-Frame revolver that was built to handle it, not to mention that it was an extremely expensive handgun for the time. General George S. Patton carried one opposite his Colt Single Action Army .45 during World War II.

After World War II in the 1950s Colt and Smith & Wesson refocused their energies on creating a magnum market among civilians and policemen. For starters, Smith & Wesson developed a budget N-Frame .357 Magnum that was more appealing in price to law enforcement. Hence it’s title The Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman Model 28. This allowed the “magnum” to make a real breakthrough in law enforcement. Until the time that semi-automatics took over in the 1990s, it was the issue weapon of the Texas Department of Public Safety (Texas State Troopers).

Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman Model 28 .357 Magnum.  Large N-Frame revolver with a 6 inch barrel.
Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman Model 28 .357 Magnum. Large N-Frame revolver with a 6 inch barrel.

A large gun, but for the power it generates with each BANG, you find yourself appreciating that weight on your belt every time you pull the trigger. Makes a good field gun when your on the tractor or in the woods.

Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman .357 Magnum in a Jordan thumb break holster.  Good rugged outdoor gun
Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman .357 Magnum in a Jordan thumb break holster. Good rugged outdoor gun

Notice how the Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman  (top center) dwarfs many of the other guns, including the Smith & Wesson K-frame .38 Special Model 15 service revolver (bottom center).  Particularly the larger cylinder on the N-Frame
Notice how the Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman (top center) dwarfs many of the other guns, including the Smith & Wesson K-frame .38 Special Model 15 service revolver (bottom center). Particularly the larger cylinder on the N-Frame

Smith & Wesson, realizing the large size of the N-frame was not desired by all, developed another .357 Magnum on their .38 Special K-frame design which is what their Models 10 (Military & Police) and 15 (Combat Masterpiece) were based on. Originally called The Combat Magnum and later designated the Model 19, this .357 Magnum K frame was a favored weapon of Law Enforcement and civilians all over including famous U.S. Border Patrolman and crack shot Bill Jordan. A stainless steel version was later developed called the Model 66.

Colt also developed a smaller frame Colt .357 Magnum built on the same frame as their .38 Special Colt Official Police which became the Colt Trooper and Colt Trooper MK III and V (aka “The Poor man’s Python”) which is what the famous Colt Python was developed from. Now THIS is a fine weapon. Many people consider it merely a museum piece today because it’s value has greatly increased since it was discontinued by Colt years ago. I disagree with this. To me, a gun is a gun. It’s a weapon. It’s not meant to be a safe sitter. This doesn’t mean I’m going to run out and buy a $3000 Python with all the bluing on it from it’s original box. However, as odd as this sounds, the worse shape the gun is in, the better price you can get. “Huh?” Meaning, a gun can have holster wear on the finish, have a tad of surface rust points on the outer frame, have worn out wooden grips and still be a fine weapon that you can get an excellent price on. I have a Python that has holster wear on the barrel and had a tad of surface rust on the underlug (barely noticeable). I bought it for $725 eight years ago. It can be done. 🙂

Colt Python with the cylinder full
Colt Python with the cylinder full

Colt Python with cylinder open
Colt Python with cylinder open

Many of these guns can be found in gun shows and independent sporting goods stores today. They are fine weapons and can be found at reasonable prices.

Colt Python .357 Magnum (bottom) built on the same frame as the Colt Official Police .38 Special.   The magnum gun is noticeably bulkier with heavier barrel, full underlug, vented rib, adjustable rear sights and target grips compared to the simpler .38 Special service revolver.   The Colt Trooper .357 Magnum looks more like the Official Police with a heavier barrel, adjustable rear sights and usually with target grips.   All the extra weight and bulk is appreciated when the gun fires powerful magnum loads.
Colt Python .357 Magnum (bottom) built on the same frame as the Colt Official Police .38 Special (top). The magnum gun is noticeably bulkier with heavier barrel, full underlug, vented rib, adjustable rear sights and target grips compared to the simpler .38 Special service revolver. The Colt Trooper .357 Magnum looks more like the Official Police with a heavier barrel, adjustable rear sights and usually with target grips. All the extra weight and bulk is appreciated when the gun fires powerful magnum loads.

I guess no article on “The Magnum” would be complete without a mention of Hollywood’s famous Dirty Harry .44 Magnum. This gun was actually built on the same frame as the .357 Magnum N-Frame in 1955. It overshot the .357 Magnum as the “most powerful handgun in the world” at the time. By the time “Dirty Harry” was released in 1971, in spite of Harry’s commentary to the contrary, the .44 Magnum was overshot by the .454 Casull.

But anyway, I have never had the pleasure of owning or even shooting the famous S&W Model 29. But I have had the pleasure of shooting a .44 Magnum in a single action Ruger New Model Super Blackhawk. And, from that, I can tell you that it is quite an impressive projectile of energy you are blasting downrange.

As a bonus, for those of you who don’t like practicing with wrist wrecking magnum loads, both the .357 Magnum handguns will accept .38 Special and the .44 Magnum will accept .44 Special. For my tastes, however: It’s a MAGNUM, use it the way it was intended. 😉

So rather than buying a tight triggered Taurus or modern Smith & Wesson, go to a gunshow or ask your local independent dealer if they can find you one of these guns with crisp smooth easy triggers. They are just as good, if not better, than any modern made factory gun out there.

These Colts and Smith & Wesson Magnums served policemen and outdoorsmen faithfully for decades and are still good today. So keep a sharp eye out at your local sporting goods stores and gun shows for these fine weapons. Even if they are more expensive than, say, a .38 Special handgun you will get what you pay for and more when the trigger is pulled.

4 thoughts on “The Magnum”

  1. My father was a police officer from 1970-1994. When he started he carried the classic S&W Model 28 Highway Patrolman with the 4 inch barrel. Great revolver. Massive for the caliber, but it made shooting the 357 Magnum no big deal. In 79 his agency switched to the S&W Model 65. The K frame magnum was easier to carry and it’s a sweet revolver, but there was just something about the large framed Model 28. I now own a 4″ Model 28 , the Model 65 and three Model 19 revolvers (2.5″, 4″ and 6″ versions). Big fan of the .357 Magnum. Good article.

    1. Interesting story about your father. Yes those N-frame guns are pretty large but it helps a lot when you’re shooting the power they are containing. At some point I’d love to get my hands on a 4 inch Model 19. Thank you for your comment!

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