Way back in the mid-1980s, after the United States Army adopted the Beretta 92F as its new standard sidearm, police agencies around the country began to follow suit. Living in Maryland as I was, and not far from the Beretta plant in Accokeek, Maryland, I noticed a lot of local agencies making quick transitions to the 9mm pistol. With one local agency that meant getting rid of their Smith & Wesson Model 64 stainless steel revolvers. These revolvers, in .38 Special sporting a 4-inch barrel, were being surplused onto the market through various dealers. I happened to have been lucky enough to purchase one of them and have enjoyed it for about twenty years now. In this week's review, we're going to take a look at the revolver as a field gun while hunting, camping, etc., and specifically the S&W 64 as it still performs two decades after being phased out of police use.
At about 8.5 inches in overall length and weighing just over two pounds unloaded, the six-shot stainless steel revolver was once widely used as a police sidearm. Even today there are many educated shooters who would rather depend on the reliability of a revolver instead of the capacity of a pistol in life and death situations.
Originally introduced in 1899 by Smith & Wesson, the revolver has been around for more than a century in its basic form. That puts it on par with the legendary Government Model 1911 .45ACP. What we need to remember is that the .45ACP cartridge was adopted to defeat an enemy that took repeated hits from .38 caliber weapons without falling.
But let's consider the S&W 64 as a field gun. Far from being the mean streets of most major metropolises, the backwoods and fields of our great outdoors don't usually carry large threats. Most animals are sensible enough to run if they feel threatened in any way; that is, unless we are invading their territory or they're protecting their young. Yes, there are those animals out there big enough to consider we humans prey. The good news is that sometimes they'll be intimidated by loud sounds and they don't like pain. The bad news is that if they are well and truly pissed off, your .38 is not going to be terribly effective against them.
.38 Special ammunition is available in a variety of loads and it is that variety that may make this weapon appeal to outdoorsman dependent on their need. .38SPL ammo can be had in round nose, hollow point, jacketed hollow point and other bullet designs. Shot shell loads are also available. Now, while shot may not do you a lot of good against that aggravated grizzly (not any good at all unless you get his eyes) that same shot load would do you well against a coiled rattlesnake.
In the full power +P loads, with semi-jacketed lead hollow point bullets, the cartridge/weapon combination is capable of delivering a fair amount of tissue damage with acceptable penetration. With the wide adoption of pistols in law enforcement, it's a shame that the Secret Service's +P+ loading for the .38 isn't commercially available to the public. While I wouldn't want it shot at me as a cop (or just regular Joe), it would be much more effective as a defensive round against the larger aggressive animals one might encounter by accident in the mountainous trails we enjoy.
Holsters galore are available for this revolver. No matter how you like to carry your weapon while you hike, backpack or camp (or shop off duty), there is a holster made to fit the Smith & Wesson Model 64 revolver. And you can have it in just about whatever material you want as well. Leather. Kydex. Nylon. No problem. Shoulder holster. Pancake holster. Tactical thigh holster. Small of the back holster. In the pants holster. You can find them all.
If you keep the revolver maintained properly it will perform as expected. Two words of caution here:
- Remember that there is a flash gap between the front of the cylinder and the forcing cone or back of the barrel. That flash gap, as small as it is, permits a great deal of powder and metal bits to be sprayed laterally to either side of the revolver when it's fired. Anyone or anything on line with that flash gap will get sprayed with these small projectiles and injuries have occurred.
- The cylinder seems to be the most sensitive area for cleaning and maintenance. Make sure that no bits of grit or unburned powder are under the ejector star and that the ejector rod is tight. I had an ejector rod loosen on me once and I couldn't unlock the cylinder to reload. Hobby grade Loctite® is handy in keeping this from happening.
All in all, the S&W Model 64 still makes a good off-duty or field gun. Be realistic of what you expect to stop with it. Understand the six-round capacity. Practice with it so that you know what the point-of-aim/point-of-impact relationship is. The sights aren't adjustable. In fact, the rear sight is a groove milled into the top of the revolver or the "top strap."
I'm familiar with surplus Smith & Wesson Model 64 revolvers that are still in use twenty years after having been retired from a police department. They are properly maintained and function fine. They can make a fine secondary gun and should be available in surplus still at very reasonable prices.