S&W Model 642 Airweight
November 9, 2007
The S&W model 642 is the biggest selling gun that Smith & Wesson makes. It has far outsold all other guns in the S&W lineup for years and for good reason. There is no gun made past or present which is handier to carry and provides a potent loading in 38 special +P and even 357 magnum. When I started in police service in 1974 we all carried revolvers of course. The standard issue for patrol officers was the S&W model 10 bull barrel whereas detectives were issued the model 36 S&W snubby. Later (1979) when stainless steel was perfected for firearms we traded our blued guns in for model 64’s and the snubby model 60. Of course times have changed but the snubby revolver still has a very large following. In fact the two largest police departments in the USA, New York and Chicago still authorize and issue the S&W snubby as a backup and off duty gun for patrol officers as well as detectives. Since 1952 the model 40 Centennial and it’s descendants have served us well.
I bought my first model 36 as an off duty gun in 1975. Of course like most shooters you are always trading and this is one gun I wish I hadn’t traded. It would make a nice keepsake to remember my police service. Fortunately I did keep a S&W model 19 revolver from my early service which after 28 years still serves me well. With the model 36 if you carried it in a front pocket or jacket pocket you had to place your thumb over the hammer to keep it from hanging up on your clothing during the draw. With the hidden hammer of the 642 this is not a concern. You just put the gun in your front pocket and draw. I don’t know of any gun that is faster to get into action. It’s just like pulling your hand out of a pocket and pointing. A very simple, practical and potent gun and method of carry. The most practical holster is the DeSantis Nemesis synthetic holster that fits in a front pocket of your jeans and is shaped such that it will not come out with the gun. The holster lining is very smooth allowing for a fast draw. This holster is an excellent choice and has a modest price tag of $15 from MidwayUsa. As far as ammunition is concerned a great choice is the Speer 135 grain +P loading made specifically for the short barreled revolver.
This particular model 642 is the Airweight version which to my way of thinking is the best choice. At 15 ounces you don’t even notice it’s there. It certainly doesn’t give itself away by pulling your pants down on one side as full size pistols often do if you don’t purchase a good holster. You might think that at 15 ounces the recoil would be punishing but I can assure you it’s not at all. In fact it’s very comfortable to shoot even with +P ammo. I watched a training video the other day called the “Snubby Summit”. It’s restricted to law enforcement only but I can tell you that the top trainers in the country where present and all of them carry a snubby revolver as a backup gun or as a primary off duty gun. Massad Ayoob is a particularly big fan of the snubby and that’s saying something since he is in the top five instructors in the country. The 642 is his favorite snub nose revolver.
Shooting the snubby revolver is just downright fun. Of course it’s not a target revolver by any means but with practice you would be surprised at the accuracy you can obtain with this gun. Being double action only takes some practice to get used to but it is certainly possible to shoot small groups at reasonable distances. This target was shot at ten yards slow fire at the head of a standard B27R police target.
The small black squares used to cover previous shots are one inch by one inch square so this gives you an idea of the group size. I’ve shot many thousands of rounds from a revolver but I’m convinced that anyone willing to put in the practice time can shoot just as well. This is five rounds or one cylinder of Winchester +P 38 jacketed hollow point ammo. Using the old method of drawing and firing from the hip you can obtain a group well within the 9 ring of a police target. That is more than sufficient to be effective in protecting yourself or a loved one. Reloading is faster than one might think. Using a speed loader and practice will make you very fast in reloading. Another option is the speed strip. This is a device made out of a rubber substance that holds five rounds of ammo. You simply strip two rounds at a time into the cylinder until you’re reloaded. While not as fast as a speedloader they are very flat and you can carry several in your pocket without anyone noticing.
My standard stance for up close target engagement
These S&W’s fill a nitch that no other gun can. The proof is in the numbers of guns sold and the longevity of the design. They are as popular as ever and probably will be for many years to come. If you’ve never considered a snub nose revolver for your carry or backup gun you really should. I’m sure you’ll find it a very valuable addition to your gun collection or if you don’t collect guns it will certainly serve you well as a home protection gun.
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