It’s a predictable cycle. A popular product starts to lose its position in the marketplace and is eventually discontinued. Years later, renewed interest or nostalgia – or simple business research brings it back. This ‘rising from the ashes’ phenomenon has brought back a beautifully feathered Phoenix this time – the Smith & Wesson Model 19 .357 Magnum! Originally developed in the mid 1950’s as the “if I could make me one, it would be like this” brainchild of Bill Jordan – and dubbed the Combat Magnum (before Smith started assigning model numbers), it was an instant success and was soon on the hip of many serious peace officers across the United States. In the classic version, the K-Frame platform fit more people’s hands better than the larger L-Frame models and provided better trigger control. Better trigger control means better accuracy, and that means officers’ lives saved. That classic model ceased production some 20 years ago in the blued variety – but as if 19 was an abbreviation for 2019, Smith is re-issuing the M19 in the Classic Series.
But what I’m here to tell you about is even nicer news than that (in my ever-so-humble opinion)! Along with the reproduction of the Model 19 Classic comes the Performance Centers interpretation of the gun, dubbed the Model 19 Carry Comp. “Carry” because the barrel has been shortened to 3” and the pistol has been fitted with a nicely curved custom wood boot grip. It’s amazing how versatile the K-Frame can be, growing or shrinking in size depending on the barrel and the stocks. The “Comp” comes from the compensated barrel design – which vents hot gasses directly upward when fired, helping to keep the muzzle rise to a minimum and reduce felt recoil. Smith & Wesson has dubbed it the “PowerPort”, though try as I may I was unable to charge my phone with it. It is this single feature of the gun, I am convinced, that is the secret sauce to making this the best .357 Magnum I’ve ever shot.
The Performance Center at Smith and Wesson is well known for taking a basic model firearm and re-imagining it in terms of not just giving it a better trigger and a PC emblem, but really thinking about what can make the gun a better gun to use. In the case of the Model 19, this manifests as a ‘less is more’ type of package that includes the aforementioned PowerPort, a Tritium® Night Sight set into the generous and nicely serrated front sight blade, a trigger overtravel stop, and of course – the very nicely PC tuned action. The attention was paid to improving the performance of the revolver and not just at adding bling. In fact, aside from the gorgeous wood stocks and the Performance Center roll mark on the barrel and medallion on the frame, the gun is very ordinary looking at first glance.
But, as you look closer, you see that the folks at Smith have sculptured an elegant and highly functional revolver. All the edges and joints are soft. The cylinder has been beveled for a ‘de-horned’ look and feel, something that is very practical for a carry gun. The wood stocks fit the butt of the gun so well that at first, you will think it is one single piece of wood. But it is indeed two – fitted together with seamless perfection and held by a couple of internal guide pins and the traditional Smith single screw.
But wait – there’s more! The PC also includes a set of synthetic grips with the Carry Comp, should you prefer those. And, remember what I said about the stocks transforming a revolver? The black synthetic grips make this blued 3” revolver look instantly more tactical and serious. It looks like an entirely different gun, and to some extent feels much different too. Another element that escapes most visual inspections is the barrel design. Smith and Wesson chose to use a two-piece barrel for the Model 19, with a stainless-steel barrel inserted into a carbon steel sleeve. They say this not only adds to the life of the barrel, and greatly reduces manufacturing complexity, but also adds to the accuracy of the gun.
SHOOTING THE CARRY COMP
It may be a cardinal sin for a gun writer to say this, but I am not a big fan of the recoil from the .357 magnum round. In fact, in small guns I find it to be about as pleasant as having the palm of my hand struck with the thin end of a baseball bat. So, when I picked up this K-Frame with a 3-inch barrel for the first time and dropped six rounds of SIG Sauer’s Elite Performance .357 Mag V-Crown into the cylinder, I prepared myself to endure what one must endure when testing such a handgun. After the first pull of the trigger, my senses were a bit confused. After the second pull, I must have looked like the RCA Victor dog with his head cocked to one side. And after the third, the lip that I was expecting to start quivering was actually stretching into a smile. That smile stayed on my face the entire time I shot the Carry Comp – each and every time.
Yes, I knew that the Performance Center had ported the barrel in an effort to compensate the recoil, but I have to admit that I had no idea they’d done such a great job! Shooting full power .357 magnum loads such as SIG, Federal, and Hornady felt like – at most – .38 Special +P. I was also expecting the beautiful but quite firm and unyielding wood stocks to be uncomfortable to shoot, but here again, I was taught a lesson. The ergonomics of the custom boot grips are very good and combined with the round butt and gentle finger curves at the front, there is no slipping or jumping in the hand. They give one a confident grasp on the gun and provide excellent trigger reach.
And speaking of the trigger, that is the heart and soul of a Performance Center revolver. The double action rolls smoothly and evenly without stacking. There are no hesitation points in the action, and while you can learn to predict the travel and break, there is no discernable stage point that I could feel. The hammer just continues to move smoothly rearward until it falls. This buttery smooth double action is what Smith and Wesson built its name on. The single action is, as one would expect, very light and very crisp, with absolutely no take-up or overtravel. The latter is ensured by the addition of an overtravel stop that is non-adjustable.
The hammer spur is perhaps the one feature I might wish to change on the M19 Carry Comp. The PC version of the Model 19 has the more pointed spur that tends to hit me right in the inner part of my thumb’s first joint and digs in. I generally prefer the more spade-style hammer spur that I believe is used on the Model 19 Classic version of the gun. That said, the hammer spur is nicely sized and very well knurled. The trigger face is smooth and the trigger shoe itself is decently radiused to provide a comfortable, smooth pull. My digital gauge concluded that the double action pulls at just under 11 lbs., and the single action at just shy of 6 lbs. I had a tough time buying those results and re-tested several times because those numbers belie the smooth and lighter feel.
The rear sight is fully adjustable, and my copy of the Carry Comp was printing about a foot low inside 20 yards. The sight was set all the way down, so after some adjusting, I got the groups where I wanted them. This caused me to wonder if the sight is not deliberately set low to prevent damage to it in transit and handling. The front sight is high and the ramp is nicely serrated, like the steps of a Mayan temple. Inlaid at the altar of that temple is a small vile of Tritium® that provides a nice pinpoint sight in daylight or in total darkness.
I find the Model 19 Carry Comp easy to shoot well. It’s a natural pointer, has very nice sights and excellent ergonomics. This, combined with the ported barrel that not only tames recoil but reduces muzzle lift, allows you to get off several shots quickly while keeping the sights on target. Something nearly impossible to do with a traditional small .357 Mag. Of course, if you want to practice or just plink with lighter loads, you can shoot .38 Special too.
To test accuracy – let me rephrase that, to test my ability to shoot this gun accurately – I used three loads of .357 Magnum self-defense rated ammo and one load of Fiocchi .38 Special for comparison. I fired six rounds of each from 15 yards on a sandbag rest – all shots single action. Results were consistent among all four groups, with the best three shots from each being well under one inch.
JUST MY OPINION
Wheel guns seem to be making a resurgence in popularity. Not long ago scoffed at as “ancient technology”, it seems that many shooters – and refreshingly many young shooters – are finding out that a good revolver is not just fun and reliable to shoot, but also a work of art in many cases. There is something to be enjoyed about an all steel handgun that’s only motion is caused by the manipulation of the shooter. Revolvers can inherently handle more pressure than most semi-autos as well, which might be appealing to the new surge of popularity for heavy-hitting handgun calibers, with which .357 magnum still holds its head high. Whatever the reason, it is good to see fine revolvers in vogue – and they don’t come much finer than from the Smith & Wesson Performance Center.
The Model 19 Carry Comp is just small enough that it could realistically be considered for daily concealed carry, yet it’s added weight and most of all, its ported barrel makes it a tame shooter, even when loaded for bear. That makes it a gun you’ll enjoy shooting and practicing with. Many folks I know prefer to carry a bottom-fed semi-auto outside the home but rely on a stout revolver to protect home and hearth. This gun would be ideal for home defense duty. With the manageable recoil and smaller K-Frame, most members of the household who might need to, could handle it and deliver maximum stopping power to an immediate threat. One of the common drawbacks to a ported barrel, particularly for home defense, is the inherent muzzle flash. I watch closely for signs of excessive flash from this gun and saw none. Having a 3” barrel rather than a 2” or 1 ½” barrel means that most of the powder is ignited before the bullet escapes the barrel, so the fire trail of burning powder that we see as ‘muzzle flash’ is much less. The other thing I love about the 3” barrel is the balance of the handgun. I find the Model 19 Carry Comp to be zero percent gimmick or fluff, and 100 percent serious business.