Smith & Wesson’s venerable J frame revolvers have long set the standard by which all other compact revolvers are judged, and with good reason. Any gun that has been in production for over 50 years has necessarily undergone a variety of changes, but the basic package being sold now looks very much like the Chief’s Special that made its debut almost 70 years ago. J frames have appeared in many configurations over the years, but for many (this writer included) the Model 60 is the zenith.
In Smith & Wesson parlance, the Model 60 is the stainless steel version of the original blued or nickeled Chief’s Special (now called the Model 36). The exposed hammer allows the shooter to fire in both single and double action. The grip, while not as beefy as a K or L frame Smith, still provides plenty for your mitts to hang on to. And true to Smith & Wesson’s reputation, the trigger is smooth and predictable and crisp.
This Model 60 is something a little bit different, and the Pro Series leaves many people (including me) scratching their head. While most of the Smith & Wesson “Pro Series” guns appear to be tuned-up factory model guns, this gun is its own unique beast and decidedly different than the more garden variety 60’s. Sharing styling with its larger “Performance Center” 686 and 627, the 60 Pro Series’ angled barrel and high sights make it stand out from the rest of the J frame offerings. I suspect this is also a fairly uncommon gun, given its somewhat higher price (MSRP of $799 and a street price of ~$650).
The first thing astute readers will notice is that these are not the original grips. I normally don’t have a beef with Smith’s slabs of wood, but the stock grips did not work for my hands. At all. A quick trip to Eagle Grips scored a pair of their fabulous Secret Service grips in rosewood. This is only the second Smith I’ve ever swapped the grips on, but for this shooter the combat style grips made all the difference despite being a finger shorter.
A common gripe about the J frame guns are the integrated sights, which are fabulous for carrying and not so fabulous for doing any sort of precision shooting with. Adjustable sights have made appearances on J frames over the years, but a quick look at Smith & Wesson’s website suggests that this is the only current production J frame so equipped. Smith also pinned a rather high Trijicon night sight to the front of the barrel, which makes aiming all the more pleasant.
The ample sights, and the 3″ barrel mean that this Model 60 should be capable of more than the regular J frames. And true to form a few hundred rounds down the pipe at the range today confirmed that, in a world full of 2″ barreled Model 60’s and Ruger LCR’s (among many other fine pocket pistols), there’s a place in the serious target shooter’s bag for this Model 60 “Pro Series,” whatever that means.
The hammer lock just above the cylinder release has been the recipient of plenty of scorn over the years, and has earned some rather unflattering nicknames that shall not be repeated here. I can’t say that it’s the gun’s most flattering feature, but I’m not sure that its absence would make this gun all that much more attractive. The oddly angular barrel and the scalloped extractor shroud won’t compete with the classic lines of the original Chief’s Special, but (with the right grips) the gun felt absolutely right in my hands; perfectly balanced, with enough heft to absorb recoil, and lightweight enough to reduce fatigue. The trigger broke crisply in both single and double action, the hammer cocked smoothly, and the cylinder release’s ergonomics are pleasant and instinctual.
An even bigger surprise was this gun’s performance. I brought several other 2″ barreled J frames to the range, but this gun’s 3″ barrel seemed to provide the extra bit of stability needed for tight groups at 20 yards. The factory alignment of the sights was dead-perfect, and with a bit of practice I was cutting 3″ groups at 20 yards. Not quite the performance I get out of my 6″ barreled 686, but utterly respectable from a gun that’s almost half the weight.
One curious detail about this specific gun is its chambering for .38 S&W SPL. +P. The current 60 Pro Series is chambered in .357 Magnum. The beefier chambering only adds (unloaded) about a half an ounce of weight to the gun, so for most shooters this wouldn’t be an issue … and the flexibility of being able to shoot .38 and .357 would be appealing. I don’t mind being limited to .38, though. It is reminiscent of the pre-1996 Model 60’s, which were all chambered in .38, and it seems more consistent with a gun that would be used more for target shooting.
If I had my way, the only thing I’d do a bit differently on this gun are the markings. I’m not a big fan of the ALL CAPS roll marks on the barrel, and the laser engraved “Pro Series” on the side plate seems superfluous. And like the familiar “MARCAS REGISTRADAS” roll mark on the right side of the frame, I would prefer that the S&W logo on the left side be roll stamped instead of laser etched. If I was feeling bold I might also suggest a smoother bull barrel to replace the angular barrel that this gun ships with.
But these are nit-picks on an otherwise excellent gun, and one that will hopefully bring the J frame into the target shooting market.