I have a thing for 45 ACP revolvers.
Having a great love for the 45 Colt
cartridge, owning revolvers that also fire the 45 ACP cartridge
just makes sense to me; therefore, I own a good number of
revolvers, both Single-Action and Double-Action, which
are setup to fire both cartridges. I also have a good number of
revolvers, both Single-Action and Double-Action, which are made
to fire the 45 ACP cartridge only. Several of these are antiques
which were made by Smith & Wesson: original Military-issue
and Civilian Model 1917s, a "1937 Brazilian Contract"
Model 1917, and even a 2nd Model Hand Ejector rechambered to 45
ACP from its original 455 Eley. 45 ACP sixguns remain practical
defensive handguns and professional-grade target handguns, as
well as viable hunting handguns, and are just loads of fun for
target / plinking applications. 45 ACP ammo is relatively cheap
and plentiful in its factory loadings, as well as relatively
cheap and easy to reload, which makes it an even more practical
choice for fun shooting, competitive practice, or serious
There have never been a great many models of
sixguns chambered exclusively for the wonderful 45 ACP
cartridge, but Smith & Wesson has seemingly always kept some
in their catalog. Now S&W offers a truly modern
defensive-capable sixgun in their Model 325 Thunder Ranch, which
is available from the Smith & Wesson Performance Center®.
The Model 325 Thunder Ranch is a truly modern
defensive sixgun largely because of the materials used in its
construction. Built on the Magnum-size "N" Frame with
"Round Butt" grip configuration, the frame of the 325,
as indicated by the "3" series designation, is of
lightweight Scandium alloy. Scandium is lighter in weight than
steel, while stronger and with a much higher melting point than
aluminum; thus, Scandium is a logical choice for lower-stressed
areas of firearms, such as frames, where weight savings is
desired. One area of concern when using Scandium or aluminum
alloys for revolver frames is the possibility of flame-cutting
at the top of the frame above the barrel / cylinder gap; this
has been addressed by S&W with a stainless steel plate
mounted above the barrel underneath the top strap in the
cylinder window, effectively eliminating this potential problem.
The barrel and cylinder of the Model 325 are made of stainless
steel, which is a long-proven material for strength and
corrosion resistance. The use of this combination of materials
in the Model 325 allows for both strength and light weight,
which are the most desirable properties in a sixgun intended for
The modern materials used in the Model 325
Thunder Ranch are combined with modern design features such as a
two-piece shrouded barrel system and synthetic pebble-finish
Hogue Monogrip. Another slick design feature which enhances the
strength of the Model 325 is S&W's use of a ball detent
lockup at the front of the cylinder crane, in addition to the
traditional lockup at the rear of the cylinder. The barrel's
materials, along with its profile and 4" length, makes the
lightweight Model 325 balance perfectly in the shooter's hand.
The barrel length and the light weight of the Model 325 also
make the sixgun as easy to conceal as an N-Frame can be.
The 325's modernity is further reflected in
its aesthetics. While the appearance of the 325 Thunder Ranch,
namely the barrel profile, will not appeal to all shooters, I
find the appearance of the sixgun to be quite pleasing. I am
very much a traditionalist at heart, and as such many of the
Performance Center's offerings leave me cold, but the 325
Thunder Ranch does not go so far aesthetically that it fails to
appeal to my eye.
As mentioned, the grip frame of the 325
Thunder Ranch is of the "Round Butt" configuration,
with the factory-supplied Hogue Monogrip being of the
"Square Butt Conversion" design. I find this very
appealing, even though the "classic" S&W N-Frame
sixguns were of the "Square Butt" configuration,
because of the versatility of grip designs offered by the Round
Butt frame. If desired, N-Frame Round Butt grips will fit
perfectly and reduce the size of the grip for shooters with
smaller hands or those who find the smaller Round Butt grips
easier to conceal, while a good variety of Square Butt
Conversion grips of varying designs and materials will just as
readily fit. This offers the best of both worlds of grip design,
and greatly increases the versatility of the 325 Thunder Ranch.
The sights of the 325 Thunder Ranch consist
of S&W's familiar and excellent adjustable rear sight,
coupled with an interchangeable blade front sight with gold
bead. This sight combination offers a very precise sight
picture, due to the square notch in the 325's rear sight (as
opposed to the V-notch rear sight blade commonly paired with
gold-bead front sights) while still affording the speed and
quick acquisition of the gold-bead sight. If the user
wishes a different front sight or rear blade configuration, replacements are
readily available and easily changed. If the user wishes to
mount a scope, the top of the frame is drilled and tapped for a
scope mount once the rear sight is removed.
If a laser sight
is desired, there are a couple of options available. The
grips can be changed out for a set of Crimson Trace Lasergrips,
or a rail-mounted laser, such as Crimson
Trace's Rail Master, can be mounted underneath the barrel
using the rail mount supplied with the 325 Thunder Ranch. This
rail mount can also be used for mounting a weapon
One design feature of the Model 325 Thunder
Ranch, which is common to almost all S&W revolvers these
days, is the
S&W Internal Key Lock. I know some shooters who absolutely
hate the Lock, and will not buy any S&W product which sports
the Lock; this is unfortunate for them, as they are allowing
what is mostly an irrational and unfounded bias against the
Locks to preclude them from acquiring some truly fine sixguns. I
know of no one who really LIKES the Lock, but I know many
shooters who, like myself, tolerate the Lock. I referred to the
bias against the lock as "mostly irrational and
because of the horror stories I have heard of the Locks engaging
at the most inopportune moments. I do know of a handful of
cases, and have personally witnessed one case, where the
Locks have prematurely engaged, thus rendering the sixgun
inoperative; they all involved the same model, the Model 329PD 44
Magnum, firing the heaviest loads available. In the one case
I witnessed, I was unable to repeat the failure firing the same
329PD myself using the same loads, but it appears that the
lightweight Scandium frame, coupled with Magnum pressures, can
on very rare occasions cause the Lock to engage. I find this to
be of no concern on other models such as the 325 Thunder Ranch,
but for those who get nervous about such things, or for those
who just don't like the look of the "Hillary Hole", there are Lock
Delete kits available and easily installed. No matter of how one
feels about the Locks, they are not going away any time soon;
once a "safety feature" has been introduced into our
increasingly litigious society, it is extremely unlikely to be
removed, regardless of its efficacy.
In Single-Action 45 ACP sixguns, the
cartridge headspaces on the case mouth, as it does in Semi-Auto
pistols. Adding to the efficiency and versatility of
Double-Action 45 ACP sixguns is their ability to use 45 Auto Rim
ammunition without moon clips. The 45 Auto Rim cartridge was
developed a hundred years ago for just this purpose: so that the
Double-Action 45 ACP sixguns which were produced in such great
numbers during The Great War could be used without the need for
cartridge clips (either the 6-round capacity moon clips or the
3-round capacity half-moon clips). The 45 Auto Rim is just as
its name indicates. The 45 ACP is a "rimless"
cartridge (which is not actually rimless, but has a rim of the
same diameter as the case, and which serves only as an extractor
groove while the cartridge headspaces on the case mouth). The 45
Auto Rim cartridge has a rim at the base, with the cartridge
headspacing on the case rim as in most rimmed cartridges; the 45
Auto Rim's case rim is thicker than standard case rims to equate
the thicknesses of both the 45 ACP rim and the cartridge clips,
so that proper headspacing is maintained between the cylinder
and the frame. My dear departed friend Terry
Murbach turned me on to the wonders of the 45 Auto Rim
cartridge many years ago, and its use only increases the
versatility and fun of Double-Action 45 ACP sixguns.
45 Auto Rim ammunition is by no means common,
nor as inexpensive as 45 ACP ammunition, but there are still
several manufacturers who make it, and availability is not a
problem. Tim Sundles offers his excellent Buffalo
Bore ammo in both Standard-Pressure and +P loadings; their
ammo is consistently some of the finest available anywhere, but
I had none available to me during the course of testing. Much of
my favorite ammo comes from Mike McNett at Double
Tap Ammo, and their 45 Auto Rim ammo is no exception: Double
Tap's 230-grain Target Ball loading is accurate, and at an
advertised 900 FPS, it is soft-shooting enough so that neither
the sixgun for the shooter is beaten-up in the process.
Specifications of the Smith & Wesson Performance Center®
Model 325 Thunder Ranch are as follows:
||45 ACP / 45 Auto Rim
||Single / Double Action
|Trigger Pull DA
|Trigger Pull SA
||Interchangeable Gold Bead
|Performance Center® Features
||• PC Trigger with Trigger Stop
• PC Tuned Action
• Scandium Frame
• Thunder Ranch Gun Rug and Defensive Revolver DVD
• Moon Clips Included
|MSRP as of March 2020
Shooting the 325 Thunder Ranch was a
pleasure, both with the 45 Auto Rim and the stouter 45 ACP loads
used. Out of the box, the sights were regulated perfectly to
standard-velocity 230-grain loads, and the 325 was impressively
accurate for punching nice little groups in paper, ringing
steel, and plinking at targets of opportunity.
Smith & Wesson has more than a
century-long tradition of crafting the finest 45 ACP sixguns
available. The Smith & Wesson Performance Center® Model 325
Thunder Ranch is a thoroughly modern version of these
time-proven sixguns, and is a more than worthy successor to
S&W's long line of 45 ACP revolvers.
Check out the Model 325 Thunder Ranch and
other Smith & Wesson Performance Center® products at: www.smith-wesson.com/pc.
Find a dealer near you with Lipsey's DEALER FINDER: www.lipseys.com.
Order Online with the GUN GENIE at Davidson's Gallery of Guns: www.galleryofguns.com.
Buy quality ammo at competitive prices at Lucky Gunner: www.luckygunner.com.
Buffalo Bore ammo: www.buffalobore.com.
Crimson Trace laser sights: www.crimsontrace.com.
Hogue Grips: www.hogueinc.com.
Clint Smith's Thunder Ranch: www.thunderranchinc.com.
Double Tap Ammo: www.doubletapammo.net.
Federal Ammo: www.federalpremium.com.
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