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We have covered the history of the .357 Magnum cartridge several times. It all began with the .38 Special cartridge. The .38 Special is a well-balanced and accurate cartridge.

Improvements in powder and bullet technology led to much more powerful .38 Special loads. The Special case was lengthened to prevent the cartridge from chambering in a .38 Special and the .357 Magnum was created.

The original .357 Magnum was a heavy-frame revolver similar to the modern Smith and Wesson Model 27 or 627. While effective and accurate, they were heavy to carry on a daily basis.

Smith and Wesson was the primary force in the police market from the 1940s well into the automatic-pistol era.

During the 1950s, they launched a number of attractive revolvers, including the Highway Patrolman and the Combat Magnum.

The Combat Magnum became the prestige police revolver for three decades.

History of the Combat Magnum

The Combat Magnum featured the same reliable action as the Model 10, but it added superb high-visibility, adjustable rear sights, a ramped front sight, a heavy-underlug barrel and hand-filling grips.

It was similar to the .38 Combat Masterpiece, but improved over this revolver as well. The Combat Magnum is much lighter and faster to handle than the large-frame Magnum revolvers.

While recoil is there, the mantra of the day was not a flurry of bullets, but a single well-placed shot. The Magnum removed all doubts of effectiveness in the service handgun.

The accepted program at the time was to fire 20 rounds of .38 Special for every Magnum round. It worked well.

Police qualification was held to 50 yards, and many officers were fine shots at the longer distance. A problem in long-term use was heavy wear on small parts.

The introduction of the 19-4 and later models with improved gas rings and other beefing up helped.

The L-Frame, a heavier revolver with the same grip size as the K-Frame Combat Magnum, was introduced near the end of the service era for revolvers.

The Model 19 Combat Magnum was eventually dropped from production.

smith and wesson model 19 review
Top to bottom: Traditions .357 Magnum Liberty, Colt Python and Combat Magnum. The Combat Magnum is just the right size for most uses.

The New Model 19

Smith and Wesson recently reintroduced the Model 19. The problems of K-Frame longevity with heavy loads have been addressed properly.

The new revolver features a 4.25-inch barrel, the extra quarter-inch allowing the revolver to be sold in Canada.  Smith and Wesson calls the new gun a Classic, denoting its role in the Classic line of revolvers.

The lockwork, hammer and trigger are metal injection molding or MIM material. The MIM may not be truly case-hardened, but it has the look and finish.

Hand-fitting is less and, with modern CNC machinery, tolerances are good. The firing pin is no longer mounted on the hammer, but on the frame.

This isn’t a transfer-bar system, but a good system for handling Magnum recoil. The action is shorter than the Combat Magnum that went out of production in 1999.

The pre-war (pre-1946) revolvers had an even longer action. While smooth, they are not as well suited to fast double-action shooting as the more modern revolvers that went into production in 1946 and continue today with modifications.

While my original stainless steel Combat Magnum is very smooth, it has been in use for more than 30 years and a certain amount of burnishing has occurred.

Just the same, the modern Combat Magnum is at least comparable to any K-Frame action Smith and Wesson has offered.

Differences in the frame and forcing cone make for a stronger revolver.

Combat Magnum Crane Lockup
The new crane lock-up is dead tight and a good improvement.

Modern Improvements

The barrel is no longer a solid block of steel, but a barrel with a heavy shroud. The ejector rod no longer locks at the barrel shroud, but locks into an indent on the frame.

This ball detent makes for good rigidity when the revolver is locked-up and ready to fire. This system is reminiscent of the original Triple Lock revolver, a handgun famed for accuracy, but then it locked-up at three places.

The trigger face is very smooth and the edges are beveled. This is practically custom-grade work. The double-action trigger press is quite smooth at a nice rolling 10 pounds and a few fractions.

After months of use, the single-action press is just under four pounds, ideal for most uses. The new walnut grips are a better fit for most hands than the older Magna types.

Combat Magnum Hi-Viz front sight ramp
A bright orange sight insert is an advantage of the Combat Magnum.

Firing the Model 19

The revolver handles well in double-action shooting. It makes a credible defense and outdoors revolver. A good ammunition choice for long-term use is the SIG Sauer Elite .38 Special practice load.

Using a 125-grain FMJ bullet, this loading is an exceptionally clean munition. The powder burn is as full a burn as possible, leaving little in the way of powder ash.

The FMJ bullet doesn’t deposit lead shavings in the bore. SIG Sauer also offers a 125-grain FMJ loading in .357 Magnum. This makes for an excellent economical practice loading.

For personal defense, the dynamic expansion of the SIG Sauer Elite 125-grain V-Crown loading is preferred.

The 125-grain practice loads fire to the same point of impact as the 125-grain V-Crown, an important advantage in practice ammunition.

I have also tested the new Model 19 extensively with the Hornady XTP loading. Hard-hitting, accurate and reliable, this is a first-class choice for all-around Magnum use.

Firing off a solid benchrest and taking every advantage for accuracy, I fired several five-shot groups at 25 yards.

There are the results… the Classic Combat Magnum is a good choice for the modern handgunner.

Hornady Ammunition
Hornady offers the 125-grain XTP, top, as a general-purpose Magnum load. The Hornady Critical Defense, lower, is a purpose-designed defense load.

Accuracy Results

Here were my averages for five shots at 25 yards:

.357 Magnum Loads Velocity Group Size
SIG Sauer Elite V-Crown JHP 1390 fps 1.8 Inch
Hornady 125-Grain Critical Defense 1330 fps 1.55 Inch
Hornady 125-Grain XTP 1430 fps 1.85 Inch

 

.38 Special Loads Velocity Group Size
Hornady 110-Grain Critical Defense 1090 fps 1.9 Inch
SIG Sauer Elite 125-Grain V-Crown JHP 1100 fps 1.8 Inch

Conclusion: Model 19 Review

The new Model 19 is also offered in a stainless steel version outside the Classic line.

This revolver features rubber grips and is offered with a 2.75-inch barrel, as well as the standard 4.25-inch barrel.

The Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum is alive and well.

Have you fired the new Smith and Wesson Classic Combat Magnum? Tell us what you thought in the comments section below!



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