A Look Back: The Smith & Wesson Model 48

by Dave Campbell


In 1959 the folks at Olin/Winchester decided to offer a rimfire cartridge with some extra zing over the quintessential .22 LR cartridge that dominated—and still does—the rimfire market. As has often been the case, the gun-manufacturing side of Winchester lagged behind the cartridge-development side, and it took another year before the Model 61 would be available in the new cartridge christened the .22 WMR or Winchester Magnum Rimfire.

But Ruger and Smith & Wesson had revolvers available within a few months of the cartridge’s unveiling. Savage—a company that seems to always have been ready to spring into action on short notice—brought forth the Model 24 to harness this peppy little rimfire in short order as well. The Ruger and Savage offerings were well-made arms with more than a little aesthetic enhancements. But the folks in Springfield, Mass., already had the K-22 Masterpiece—a K-frame double-action revolver with exquisite fit, finish and accuracy chambered in .22 LR. They had already addressed the issue of converting an otherwise center-fire revolver to fire rimfire cartridges, so it was a simple matter to run a .22 WMR reamer through the cylinder six times and kick a .22 Mag—as the cartridge has been referred to almost since its inception—out the door. Well, actually, there was one other change: running a .224-inch broach through the barrel instead of a .222-inch one used in .22 LR.

The first Model 48—serial number K 348746—came off the line on May 11, 1959 and appeared in the Smith & Wesson catalog by August of that year, according to Roy Jinks in History of Smith & Wesson. It has only been available in a blue finish and in 4-, 6- and 8 3/8-inch barrel lengths. This revolver has undergone four revisions since its introduction, the Model 48 (without a dash) which was made available in 1959 and is a four-screw revolver; the Model 48-1, which changed the extractor from a right-hand thread to a left-hand thread (December 22, 1959); Model 48-2, which changed the cylinder stop to eliminate the fourth screw at the front of the trigger guard (December 29, 1961); the Model 48-3 which changed the position of the rear sight leaf screw (December 14, 1967); and the Model 48-4 which moved the gas ring from the yoke to the cylinder (1977). The pinned barrel feature was eliminated in 1982. It has been reported that a few Model 48 revolvers came from the factory with both .22 LR and .22 WMR cylinders, but this option was aborted soon after its introduction.

Because it was one of the first firearms available in the then-new chambering, there was a fair amount of interest in the Model 48. Small-game and varmint hunters liked the roughly 33-percent increase in velocity over the .22 LR. Even today, there are those who look favorably toward the .22 WMR as a self-defense cartridge. But ammo costs were three times that of the .22 LR, and this has been the Oregon boot of the cartridge, undoubtedly a contributing factor to Smith & Wesson dropping the Model 48 from regular production in 1986.

In 1989 Smith & Wesson introduced the stainless-steel version, the Model 648. Available with a 6-inch, full-length underlug barrel only, the first run lasted until 1994. A second run with the newly nomenclatured Model 648-2 came out in 2003 and ran for a couple of years. The “-2” indicates the inclusion of the not-so-beloved internal lock. I have shot a couple of examples of this version and found them pleasant to shoot and just as accurate as the blue version. The extra weight of the full-length underlug barrel makes it more stable on target—not that the .22 WMR’s recoil is difficult, but it makes seeing hits easier.

Nonetheless, the velocity—and corresponding energy—increase is the big selling point of the .22 WMR. In a non-scientific study, I’d estimate that going from the .22 LR to the .22WMR in a revolver effectively doubles the range in which a shooter can engage vermin targets. Not long ago, I enjoyed a day of chisler shooting with both of my K-22 revolvers—a 1979-vintage Model 17 and a 1959-vintage Model 48 that I acquired recently. In a mowed pasture I was getting about 60 percent hits on the rodents at 50 to 60 yards with the Model 17. With the Model 48 I was scoring hits 45 to 50 percent of the time out to 100 yards and perhaps a little further.

Of course, no improvement comes free. Besides the increase cost of .22 WMR ammo, it is considerably louder than its Long Rifle cousin. Good hearing protection is absolutely required when shooting but especially so with a .22 WMR out of a 6-inch-barreled revolver.

The shooting world is rapidly changing. Most of today’s shooters have little to do with revolvers unless they want more power than they can reasonably find in a semi-auto pistol. But the wheelgun is not dead. Smith & Wesson has returned to making the Model 48 in its limited edition Classic series. It may be more expensive to feed and it’s most certainly objectionably loud, but the improvement in trajectory and energy seems to be even more appreciated today than it was 55 years ago when the Model 48 was christened.

 

Manipulating a Semi-Auto

by Tiger McKee


The primary concern when using firearms, regardless of application, is safety. In defensive purposes there should also be efficiency. To operate a semi-auto pistol, shooters must know how to load/unload, check its condition, reload an empty gun and clear malfunctions.

The key to operating a pistol properly is consistency. Correct technique ensures predictable results, such as safety and efficiency. Straying from proper technique opens the door for trouble. It’s the small details, such as always maintaining a proper grip on your handgun, that make big differences.

In all situations, the pistol should stay in the shooting hand. Be sure to use a proper grip and point the muzzle in a safe direction with your finger clear of the trigger guard. This allows you to operate the pistol’s controls, such as safety or de-cocking levers and magazine release. If for some reason you transfer the pistol to your support hand, you should still use the correct grip. Using an improper grip can lead to the muzzle pointing in an unsafe direction or a finger ending up on the trigger. Consistency ensures safety.

Manipulations are split into two categories—administrative and functional. Loading, unloading and checking the status of a pistol are administrative actions. Functional manipulations keep the pistol running, and include reloading and clearing malfunctions. During all manipulations the trigger finger is off the trigger and clear of the trigger guard.

A lot of people take loading, unloading or checking the pistol’s status for granted, but these are very important skills. These actions must to be performed safely, plus they are the foundation for all other manipulations. Once you learn to load and unload you have all the skills required to reload and perform malfunction clearances.

To load, extend the pistol out in front of you with the muzzle pointing downward in a “low-ready” position. The support hand acquires the magazine with the index finger aligned along the front with the tip touching the top round. With a finger on the top round you can physically confirm it is a loaded magazine and that the top round is in position. If the round is sticking partially out, which would prevent you from inserting and seating the magazine into the pistol, the finger either pushes it back in or flips it out of the way. The basepad of the magazine should be against the heel of the hand so you can aggressively seat it into the pistol’s magazine well. Then, bring the magazine up to the pistol and index the back of the magazine against the back of the pistol’s magazine well. This is a positive index that you can feel, and it’s far easier than trying to stick the magazine in straight. Once you hit the index, align the magazine and seat it into the pistol firmly with the heel of the hand. Finally, cycle the slide aggressively by grasping the slide between the fingertips and heel of the hand in a C-clamp grip, making sure not to cover or block the ejection port.

Step one of unloading is to remove the magazine. One way to hold the magazine is by placing it in the pinky finger of the primary hand. This frees up the support hand to cycle the slide, and provides instant access, which comes into play when clearing malfunctions in a lethal encounter. Cycle the slide aggressively three times. Three times is the magic number, and again comes into play for malfunctions. The final step is a press-check to confirm the chamber is clear.

Even with pistols that have a loaded chamber indicator I perform a “press-check” to ensure a round is chambered by pressing the slide slightly to the rear. I grab the slide, then slip my hand forward, putting the thumb on the rear serrations for extra grip, and crack it open to visually inspect the chamber. You can also bring the support hand under the pistol, pinching the slide between thumb and first finger, and press it rearward. After the press-check engage the safety or de-cock if required. Finally, especially for self-defense use, top off the magazine by replacing the round you just put into the chamber.

The sequence to load/unload or run a system-check always begins with the magazine—inserting, removing—and ends by checking the chamber. Maintaining this sequence reduces your chances of making a mistake. Remember, consistency is the key. Consistency is also critical to operating the pistol’s safety or de-cocking device.

With most pistols the slide will lock open when the last round is fired, letting you know it’s time to reload. Step one is to get your finger off the trigger and clear of the trigger guard. For defensive applications keep the pistol up and on target during functional manipulations. This allows you to maintain visual contact with the threat, see your handgun and cuts out wasted, unnecessary motion, which makes you more efficient. Press the mag release. On most pistols the magazine will drop free but with some it may be necessary for the support hand to strip the magazine out. For defensive applications that magazine is empty and useless so we drop it to the ground.

The support hand acquires and seats the fresh magazine. Once the magazine is seated, chamber a round by cycling the slide aggressively. Do not use the slide lock as a release unless your pistol specifically recommends this method. First, it’s a slide lock, not a release. Also, cycling the action brings it back that extra distance that ensures it slams into battery under full spring pressure. For defensive situations, when you’re under stress, that slide lock can be difficult to find. Also, some pistols don’t have an external lock, which means cycling the slide is the only way to chamber a round. I always manipulate the pistol in a manner that works with any handgun I may be shooting.

Malfunctions come in a variety of flavors. First though, keep in mind that a malfunction is something you can correct to get the pistol running again. A jam usually requires time and tools to clear.

The most common reason for pressing the trigger and not getting a bang is no round in the chamber due to an unseated magazine, which is the reason for the Tap & Rack drill. Tap the magazine to ensure it is seated. After seating the magazine, cycle the slide to chamber a fresh round. This sequence also clears Type II malfunctions, commonly called a “stove-pipe.” This approach is simple and consistent with all other manipulations.

If the Tap & Rack doesn’t fix the problem, you’re probably facing a Type III malfunction, commonly called a “double-feed.” You need to unload the pistol and then load it. Hit the magazine release and strip it out of the pistol. The magazine goes into the pinky finger of the strong hand, while the support hand cycles the slide three times. Once the slide goes into battery, use the magazine to load the pistol. Remember to position the magazine correctly in the support hand as you load it to ensure there is ammo in the magazine and the top round situated properly.

If cycling the slide three times doesn’t bring the gun back into battery, don’t keep trying. There may be a bullet in the bore and attempting to load the pistol over and over can force the bullet far enough down the barrel that eventually you will be able to chamber a round. Attempting to fire the pistol with a bullet lodged in the barrel will be ugly. When the pistol goes puff and there’s no recoil stop immediately and go to your backup. Chances are you have a squib load. The bullet had enough pressure to drive it part way down the barrel but not all the way out.

How much you practice manipulations, particularly the functional actions, depends on your intended application. For general range shooting sessions these are good skills to have. For competition, knowing how to perform a smooth reload will give you a better score. In a lethal encounter, the ability to clear a malfunction efficiently under stress in the dark while moving is mandatory. For those who carry a handgun, it’s critical to learn the manipulations to the point that they become a subconscious process you don’t have to think about. Regardless of why you own pistols, your task, as with any other tool, is to learn how to operate it properly.

 

October 31, 2014

When a man entered Lisa’s Beer and Wine with a gun around 9 p.m. and demanded money, the store clerk complied. He handed over small bills from the cash register, but the robber was not satisfied and ordered the clerk to open the safe. He then ordered the clerk to kneel on the ground while he took cigarettes from the store shelves. That is when the store clerk took action. He drew a firearm and fired, striking the robber in the hand. The robber dropped his weapon and fled the scene with cash. The store clerk remained unharmed. (Dallas News, Dallas, Texas, 4/22/14)

A 58-year-old woman, who had been walking her dog behind an elementary school around 9 p.m., told police she was threatened by two men who wanted to abduct her. She told police that one of the men was carrying a baseball bat and the other one said, “You’re coming with us.” The woman then pulled a handgun from her pocket and told them, “I have this, and I’m not afraid to use it.” She told police they ran into a wooded area after she displayed the gun. Police reportedly were unable to locate the suspects. (Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, Lancaster, Pa., 8/28/2014)

From The Armed Citizen® Archives
October 1968: Hearing someone kicking at the front door of her Shelbyville, Ind., home, then enter, Mrs. Gertrude Miller, 74, grabbed her .22 revolver. When she found the intruder rummaging through bureau drawers in her bedroom, she fired. Police found a dazed man with 2 bullet wounds wandering in Mrs. Miller’s yard and charged him with burglary. (The Shelbyville, Ind., News)

 

 
 

Past Articles

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The Smith & Wesson Model 632 .327 Fed. Mag. Revolver
by NRA Staff

The S&W Model 632 is a good all-around gun that offers ammunition versatility and several features that allow for easy handling by both men and women. Read More »

S&W's New Bodyguards
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S&W addresses America's interest in compact and concealable handguns. Read More »

Smith & Wesson's M&P Goes Long
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The Smith & Wesson SD40
by by Paul Rackley, Associate Online Shooting Editor

S&W performs polymer magic with its SD series.
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The Smith & Wesson M&P Shield
by Joseph L. Kurtenbach, AR Assistant Editor

Unveiled at the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in St. Louis, Mo., Smith & Wesson's newest product, the M&P Shield, is sure to turn heads. Read More »

A Look Back: Smith & Model 48
by Dave Campbell

With a mid-length gas tube, Geissele trigger and a multitude of Viking Tactics' gear... Read More »

Past Tips

Carrying in the Car
by Jim Wilson

Effectively carrying your firearm in a vehicle can prove to be a tricky task—here are some tips to help you prepare. Read More »

Defensive Handgun Maintenance Tips
by Jim Wilson

Regular care and maintenance keeps your carry gun ready for anything. Read More »

Concealed Carry: The Strong Side
by Paul Rackley, Associate Online Shooting Editor

Strong-side concealed carry keeps a gun close at hand. Read More »

Self-Defense Pistol 101
by Richard Mann

Using a handgun to defend your life requires more than just a familiarity with firearms. Read More »

Manipulating a Semi-Auto
by Tiger McKee

Pistol manipulation requires efficiency and consistency, especially under pressure, and the basics must be mastered. Read More »

 
 

1965

The year that Smith & Wesson introduced the first stainless-steel gun—the Model 60.

41

The number of states that have passed Right-to-Carry laws.

94 Percent

The amount the firearm accident death rate has fallen since 1904.

74 Percent

Percentage of Americans who are skeptical of smart gun technology, according to a McKeon & Associates poll.