Sunday, August 16, 2009

K-38 Target Masterpiece is greatness in steel and walnut

I have beheld greatness, held it in my hands and shot it. And lo and behold, I bow at the altar of Smith & Wesson.

At the gun shop where I work, they have a counter full of classic handguns, Smith & Wessons mostly, and I liberated one of the unsung stars of that collection for a test run at the range Saturday. It really needed no test run, being a classic Smith, but if any doubt remained as to whether I'd be plunking down cash on the counter come Monday, all doubts disappeared with the first six shots.

I stood at 100 feet and lined up on a paper plate on a post, took aim offhand and let fly six shots. I figured if I hit the plate at all, it would be a good start. All six rounds of .38 Special +Ps went into the pie plate. I tacked up a bullseye target over the plate and three friends and I proceeded to burn up a box of 50 CCI JHPs. And the barrel was barely warm when the ammo was long gone. That target in the photo is the last six shots fired rapid fire offhand at 50 feet.

I forgot my real camera and I had to make do with my cellphone camera, so the real beauty of this S&W Model 14-3 doesn't shine through in the second photo. More to come later.

It's not a beauty queen, like some classic Smiths are that have been babied and pampered and spent their days resting in a gun safe with nary a blemish on their blue steel and walnut. This old warrior was made sometime between 1957 and 1981, when the Model 14 ceased production, and I strongly suspect it attended and maybe even won many of a bullseye competition during its working life.

It was sold to us in its present condition, most of the bluing gone but still sound as a hammer. (Sound as a dollar doesn't measure up to the standards of this classic Smith.) The cylinder locks up tighter than Dick's hatband and even when in the unlocked position with the hammer down, there is less wobble in it that almost every brand-spanking-new Smith I've ever handled.

It's got a Bomar target rear sight, Patridge front sight and Magna target grips that fill your hand. But that's not the good part. The double-action trigger is so smooth it's to die for, just to stroke it through its appointed path. And the single-action trigger? Well you cock it, you point it at the target and you think "Shoot!" and away she goes. Maybe 2 lbs., probably less. My digital trigger-weight gauge went Tango Uniform, so I can't verify that.

I can say this. Two fellow gun nuts of my generation handled this old Smith before we got to the range and both of them tried to buy it off me before we ever fired the first shot.

And both of them said the first single-action shot snuck up on them when they fired it off. I've got a Smith 29 with a 1 lb. 4 oz. single-action trigger, so I was ready for a light release. The Smith 14-3 isn't that light, but it isn't awfully far from it either.

Back in the pre-1957 days before S&W pistols got numbers, this Model 14 was called the K-38 Target Masterpiece and from the year of its manufacture in 1946, it dominated the bulls-eye target competition scene. In the postwar years up through the 60s, if you showed up at a bullseye match without a K-38, you might as well have stayed home.

It's indeed a target masterpiece in steel and walnut and I shall be proud to call it my own.

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