I've owned a couple of airweight .38 snubs over the past few years, both Smith and Wesson Centennials. One is an older blue mod. 042 which I recently gave to my fiance and the other is a mod. 642 that I carry almost daily. These small guns cannot be beat for an "always gun". They can easily be carried in pockets, belt holsters, ankle holsters etc. while still having a reasonable power level.
I have an Airweight S&W 442 that I am very happy with. While not a target pistol by any stretch of the imagination, it will get the hits if I do my part. I would try to get one made before the absurd key locking system became standard on Smith revolvers, if possible. Also, unlike most, I did not care for the small "boot" grips which came with the gun and replaced them with a larger set (i.e. little finger has good contact with the grip) from Hogue (Item 60700 in their online catalogue). The Hogue grips made a big difference for me on the range.
Shooting hot +P 38 loads in the small J frames produces very noticable recoil; I really cannot imagine shooting a full house 357 in this size gun (more than once, anyway). If you go with the 38, be sure to get one rated for +P loads. Some of the older ones were not.
I have also heard good things about the Ruger SP-101.
Finally, there is a wealth of information on this subject on Mr. Camp's original site under "Other Handguns". I encourage you to check it out before you make any decisions.
I have a soft spot in my heart (some say it's in my head) for the Airweights. I prefer them to the lightweight versions that have followed because to me there is not enough weight difference to "justify" ammunition limitations as is the case with the super light S&W revolvers.
The .38 Special +P is as "light" as I personally can go without feeling a little ballistically "short." In this caliber from these guns, I tend to use an old-fashioned 158-gr. LSWCHP +P as it has a decent "track record" and gives good penetration should an angling shot be required or an intermediate target hit on the way to the vitals. This is my only complaint with the .380/9mm Mak pistols; I fear that with JHP's, penetration might very well be a bit limited if other than an unobstructed frontal shot is required.
Corbon DPX might very well change that if the ammunition performs similar to what I saw in 9mm. No, it's not "the magic bullet" as "power levels" remain similar to most .380 loads, BUT we should see both expansion and penetration to at least 12". Right now, with any JHP (premium or otherwise), expanded .380's run a bit shy of that. A frequent exception remains Hornady's 90 grain XTP.
...but I digress; back to the .38 snubs.
I do not consider these the "ultimate" carry guns, but do believe that they have at least adequate potential against an aggressor IF (and this is a big "IF") the user is skilled enough to get the hits.
Everything that makes the little snubs a peach for carrying works against them when quick, accurate fire is essential.
Recoil is substantial for the ballistic payload from the light guns and I find regular practice essential.
Yesterday, I shot my 642 at the range after a lapse of about a month. Took me about 30 shots to get back where I needed to be with regard to getting decent hits quickly.
The snub can serve well and is so very convenient, but I restate my opinion that these should be practiced with on a regular basis.
One of these days I am going to have to learn to do pics.
Of the two LW snubs I own, only one is serious..it is a "flat latch" m-37. I haven't owned it that long but it shoots the Win +P LSWCHP and the Cor-Bon DPX (much to my surprise) to the sights.
I just added a Tyler T-grip to it and beveled the bottom of the latch (cince the second version of the flat latch blocks ejection).
The other gun is a curiosity I picked up cheap. A Colt Cobra in .32 New Colt Police. I had in mind a trail/small game gun but my efforts at reloading so far have not matched the factory LRN in accuracy and in such a gun accuracy is required! Maybe when I retire from all my jobs?
My current carry gun (if they ever let me carry in this county) is a Kahr K9 with a Rosen belt slide. And I love the thing and shoot it well. Of course a lot of practice and drills were required. But the gun is a little brick, and the idea of a lightweight snub has always appealed to me.
Honestly, all of the revolvers I have shot have been service sized and bigger. Are the snubs really that much of a bear to shoot? I also notice that folks who have given good thought to CCW tend to want a small auto over a snub, and the snub is generally the back-up gun or a second option.
S&W has a recent super-light .44 mag which hurts my wrist just thinking about it, but are the light-ish .38 snubs with a decent load a pain to shoot?
Steve brings up an excellent point and if I may, I might expand on it a bit. It applies to the steel snubs also to a sligtly lesser degree.
There is a a "catch 22" when it comes to very compact and marginally powered handguns. That is that to be used effectively they must be shot very well (better than most might think). BUT they are hard to shoot really well (no they are not inaccurate - they are just hard for most people to get that accuracy out of them).
I liken it to the 410 shotgun. A 410 is a "pro's" shotgun. It is a bad idea to start a neophite out with one (except in the very easiest of training scenarios in order to take advantage of low recoil). The kid who misses his first half dozen birds or rabbits is not going to be incouraged and it takes a real shotgun man to be able to use one in the field.
The other "catch 22" is that folks look at paper ballistics and immediately assume they need to go to a lighter bullet at greater speed, thus turning what was a cartridge with a reasonable chance of reaching the spine into a 5-shot .380...this is not a good trade off.
Jim is sure right! A lightweight/airweight snub is not for a novice. And a .357 scandium/titanium snub isn't even nice for an oldtimer. Yet I see young fellows at the range trying to shoot lightweight/titanium .357 snubs and they can't hit the side of a barn, let alone a box on the ground at 5 yds. But it makes them feel "macho" shooting cannon ammo out of a pea size pistol.
My lightweight snub is a 38special, Taurus 85mulTi, and does OK with 125gr+p. But like everybody said, you have to practice with it to get the feel and correct aim.
Hello. At the present time I do not own an SP101, only the GP100. I've shot a few of the former over the years and they were all dependable and had actions varying from useable to very good. Were I going to buy a small magnum for exclusively shooting magnums, it would probably be the SP101.
I have two lightweights that I use a great deal. One is the before mentioned 642 that travels with me all the time, filled with CorBon +p 110s. The other is an old 2" round butt Model 12 that shoots to point of aim with 158 LSWCHP Federals. So that's what it carries. The Fed 158s are +p, so with this older revolver, they aren't for practice. I fear it would shoot loose rather quickly if it felt too many of them. Practice is with standard pressure 158 loads.
The older I get, the less fun carrying a heavy handgun becomes. My 1911 rides well in its iwb holster, but anything actually hanging on the belt becomes a pain rather quickly. So, the lightweights get a lot of carry time.
The SP 101 is great.Shoots anything through it without pain. I added a crimson trace laser system and you can't hardley miss. It takes some getting used too but in low or no light situations--when the bad guys are out more then ever it gives one a good feeling to have it on and ready.
My favorite lightweight is a S/W J Frame model 638.. So ugly only a Mother could love it. BUT.. Shoots real well, and the CrimsonTrace Lasergrips make it even more accurate in low light/night situations. I really think the CT Laser products are money well spent if you prefer a snub for concealed carry, or personal protection..
I have owned several light weight snubs over the years. A Taurus CHULT multi alloy, a S&W 642, Charterarms Undercover and, though not a light weight, a Ruger SP-101. The Taurus was a good gun but the extra weight loss due to the titanium wasn't worth the extra cost to me. The 642 is my pick of light weight pocket guns and the SP-101 is the only small frame .357 mag. I would consider.
My wife has had a M37 Airweight since 1976. I dehorned it long ago, smoothed the trigger face, and it has served her very well for 29 years now. She likes it even though it is bouncy. Good little gun.
I used to occasionally "borrow" it , finally got a 442 when S&W reintroduced the "hammerless" Centennial-style guns again (why did they drop them in the first place???). Both weigh in around 15 ounces, and are light enough to carry all day and forget they're there, and still have enough weight to absorb some recoil.
Neither is a target gun but both will outshoot the operator all day long. They are a challenge to use well but then there is no such thing as a free lunch.
IMHO steel snubbies have too much heft for their purpose. Have not shot the extremely light versions but recoil for the sake of recoil does not appeal. There seems to be a general consensus on this.
I let a friend talk me out of a Smith 442 recently, and I've been beating myself over the head ever since. It was a perfect pocket carry gun, and while I've still got a more recent 638, it just isn't the same as the 442. I loved it. (I bet I can get it back from him if I try hard, but he's gotten pretty fond of it as well, and for the same reasons I liked it.) I like the 638's shrouded hammer so I can cock it for SA fire, but the action isn't nearly as good as the 442's. Both have been 100% reliable with good factory ammo, however.