have always been fond of the Smith & Wesson (S&W)
large N-frame revolver. My
first centerfire six-gun was a S&W Model 28 Highway
Patrolman in .357 Magnum and since that time I have owned
several dozen of the N-frame model revolvers.
If I scrounged through my gun safe right now I know I
would find at least six off the top of my head that are some of
my most often-used handguns.
The N-frame is the workhorse of the S&W line and has
been chambered for all the big-bore, high pressure cartridges
developed in the 20th Century.
The N-frame was originally developed in 1905 for the .44
Special revolver that came to be know as the .44 Triple Lock, or
more formally as the .44 Hand-Ejector (First Model).
When the United States became involved in WWI our armed
forces were short on small arms, especially the newly adopted Colt
Model 1911 semi-automatic pistol in .45 ACP. Smith & Wesson helped fill the shortage of handguns by
chambering the .44 frame revolver to .45 ACP and it became known
as the Model 1917. As
time went on the N-frame was modified and chamber for the .357
Magnum, .44 Magnum and .41 Magnum cartridges.
S&W N-frame has gained a reputation as a fighting handgun
and I have always favored it in the non-Magnum big-bore calibers
like the .44 Special, .45 ACP and .45 Colt or “Long Colt” if
you prefer. I was
very pleased to see around two years ago a Performance Center
Edition of the .44 Special N-frames made for Thunder Ranch
owner/operator Clint Smith. This revolver harked back to the N-frames of the pre-WWII era
with the graceful tapered barrel and fixed sights. For 2006 Clint has gone one better and had a new Thunder
Ranch Smith made up, this time in .45 ACP, but with a real
N-frame similar to the original.
This was not possible with the .44 Special version as for
a number of years S&W has been using a standard-size
K-frame, round-butt style grip frame on all their revolvers, but
Smith will be making a 50th Anniversary Model 29 and for this
they needed a true N-frame.
Clint Smith saw this was coming and held out for his
Thunder Ranch .45 ACP to be made with the same frame as the .44
saw one of these new Model 22 Thunder Ranch revolvers at the 2006
SHOT Show and had one sent to me as soon as it was
revolver came packaged in a very useful ballistic nylon carrying
case emblazoned with the embroidered Thunder Ranch logo.
Inside were some half-moon clips and a security padlock,
plus the usual printed material.
The Model 22 is done up in a really nice polished blue
finish, accented by beautifully figured African Cocobolo grips,
with a laser-cut Thunder Ranch logo and checkered panels.
These grips are what S&W used to call the “Magna”
style and basically followed the lines of the grip frame with
the wood coming up over the frame at the rear to form “ears”
that helped spread out the surface area a bit to help reduce
revolver is not an exact replica of the Model 1917 or of the
commercial .45 Hand Ejector, as it has a shrouded ejector rod,
which these guns did not. It
is more like a hybrid of the .45 Hand Ejector Model of 1950
Target, but with fixed rather than adjustable sights.
In fact the left side of the barrel is stamped .45 Cal.
Model 1950. It is a
mixture of the old and the new as it had an original-looking
cylinder release latch, but also has the latest S&W
improvements like the integral cylinder stop, frame-mounted
firing pin and internal safety lock.
The front sight is circular-shaped and pinned to a
sloping ramp integral to the barrel.
Unlike the older sights, it is a full 1/8” in width and
is matte finished to reduce glare. The fixed rear sight has a wide square-shaped notch which
sits inside a trough on the top strap.
Another “oldie” feature is the side-plate on the
right side of the frame that is held in place with 4 screws,
just like in the good ol’ days.
couple of other items that make this gun useful as a combat
handgun are the medium width trigger with the smooth face;
something I definitely prefer over narrow triggers with serrated
faces or even wide serrated triggers.
The hammer spur is also wider than what you will find on
the service-grade Smiths of years past and it is a compromise as
it is midway between a service type and a target-style hammer.
The single-action trigger pull, by the way, on this gun
is pure S&W; it has a weight of about 4 pounds and breaks as
crisply as snapping a glass rod.
In contrast the double-action pull is smooth but rather
heavy and runs around 11-12 pounds.
Timing is good, but I’m already getting a slight wear
ring between the bolt notches on the cylinder.
very useful item for this gun if you want to keep it looking
“period” but still improve the handling performance is a Tyler
T-Grip Adapter. This
solid aluminum gadget fits onto the front strap of the grip
frame and fills in that space behind the trigger that is usually
covered over by modern target/combat-style grips.
While Melvin Tyler has passed to his reward, his
company is still in operation and continues to make grip
adapters for S&W, Colt and Ruger revolvers.
They also make trigger shoes for handguns and long guns
and both items can be had finished in polished aluminum, gold or
also came across another useful goodie at the 2006 SHOT Show;
this was called the RIMZ 25 and is a full-moon clip for
use in DA revolvers chambering the .45 ACP cartridge.
For you neophytes, a clip is needed when using the
rimless .45 ACP cartridge in a revolver cylinder in order to
allow the cases to be ejected.
The ejector “star” engages the clip like it would the
rim on a cartridge like the .45 Colt, since the .45 ACP was made
for an auto-loading pistol.
Originally a “half-moon” clip was issued, which was
held 3 cartridges and was made of blue steel.
Later on “full-moon” clips were developed that
carried a full 6 cartridges.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with these
clips as I have found them hard to load/unload without a special
tool. The RIMZ25
clip is made of black plastic and is truly the answer to my
prayers. It is easy
to load or unload and seems as durable as the steel clips, but
without the hassle.
if you are going to pack around a fine revolver such as this,
you need some suitable leather and I knew right away I wanted to
sheath this six-gun in a holster from El
Paso Saddlery. Ryan
McNellis and company continue to make fine leather products
down there on the border and I have used their belts and
holsters for many years. For
this gun, I chose a 1930 “Austin” holster, an old Texas
Ranger design that combines the looks and functions of a Tom
Threepersons holster combined with a Mexican Loop rig.
I ordered it in their russet finish with fish-scale
stamping to match my #150 “River Belt” and cartridge slides
that I already own. When
you see the picture you will agree that this is a classy looking
rig, besides being functional too.
took the S&W Thunder Ranch Model 22 to the 2006
Shootists Holiday at the NRA
Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico.
I brought along an assortment of .45 ACP factory
ammunition, along with some .45 Auto Rim hand-loads and later
received some .45 Auto-Rim factory rounds from Cor-Bon.
Ok, I see you neophytes raising your hands again!
The .45 Auto-Rim was first produced by the Peters
Cartridge Company in 1922 and had a thick rim so you could
use the cartridge in a .45 ACP revolver, like the S&W Model
1917, without needing the “moon clips.”
It had a 230 gr. lead bullet and was made for many years
by Remington-Peters, but was dropped from their catalog several
years ago. Anyway,
you can now buy new brass cases for this cartridge from Starline
and “roll your own” which is what I did using a 205 gr. lead
bullet, Federal large pistol primers and a modest 4.0 gr.
charge of Trail Boss
back to Raton. I went out to the Sight-In Range one day and did some
bench-rest paper-punching using the Thunder Ranch Model 22. I had some ammo from Black Hills; their 230 gr. ball
cartridge plus their 185 gr. JHP in .45 ACP.
Meister bullets, who is now producing loaded
cartridges, sent me some .45 ACP 230 gr. lead bullet loads and I
had some Speer 230 gr. Gold Dot hollow-point ammo in .45
ACP. As I said
above I later received and tested .45 Auto-Rim ammo from Cor-Bon
using their new 160 gr. DPX HP bullet, which is solid copper in
construction and designed to retain bullet weight, plus expand,
even after penetrating barriers like sheet steel and glass. My
best 5-shot group of the day was 1.66” using my handloads and
2.48” group with Black Hills 230 gr. FMJ load.
Later at another range I shot the Cor-Bon DPX ammo and
recorded a 1.88” group, also at 25 yards.
I won’t bore you with a blow by blow, as you can see
the results of the accuracy testing in the accompanying table.
thing I did note was that the sights were off a bit and I had
been warned that this might be the case with a low production
gun of which my sample was one.
To score a hit in the black bulls-eye at 25 yards, I had
to adjust my point of aim to about 10 o’clock at the top of
the target and most of my shots were still going slightly to the
right. I guess I
won’t be taking this six-gun to Camp Perry, but its role is
not in the paper punching arena anyway and I have to admit with
52 years under (and over) my belt I’m no bulls-eye shooter
on the combat shooting range, the S&W Model 22 Thunder Ranch
.45 ACP proved its worth. I put on my El Paso Saddlery rig, filled the cartridge slide
loops and put some moon clips of .45 ACP ammo in my pocket.
I’d also brought along an HKS Speedloader for
the .45 Auto-Rim cartridges and stoked it full of my handloads.
I was now ready to tackle a 30 round qualification course
that is used by the division of Homeland Security that I work
for when I’m not shooting and penning articles. I put up a humanoid silhouette target and moved back to the
3-yard line. Suddenly
I went back in time to the mid-70’s when I started my law
enforcement career and the holsters we used weren’t far
removed from the rig I had on, with its forward cant and safety
strap snapped down. I
performed a smooth draw, breaking loose that safety strap with
the top edge of my trigger finger as my hand went for the grip.
The Model 22 came out smoothly and came on target as I
assumed a classic “point shoulder” shooting stance and
stroked the trigger six times.
I immediately dumped the six empty cases just like I’d
been taught as a young Border Patrol Agent in 1982 and refilled
with the HKS Speedloader; shifted the gun to my left hand and
emptied it again, immediately loading with a “moon clip” and
re-holstered. I now
moved back to 7 yards, drew and fired two shoots center-mass at
the target looking over my sights.
I repeated this twice, again reloaded and re-holstered.
Again from 7 yards, I drew and fired two center-mass and
1 to the head, just in case the bad guy was wearing a ballistic
vest. I repeated
this drill…oops, missed that second head shot, and again
reloaded and re-holstered.
Now, I moved back to 15 yards and got behind the
quickly as I could, I drew the gun and fired 2 shots from the
right side of the barricade, 2 shots from the left side and went
back to the right side, knelt down and fired my last 2 shots.
Course ended. I
totaled up 243/300, not one of my better days, but I qualified.
Sheesh, too many years shooting self-loaders on the job I
in the final analysis, I found the S&W Model 22 Thunder
Ranch .45 ACP delightful to the eye, well made and worthy of the
Smith & Wesson name and Thunder Ranch reputation, plus darn
good medicine for up-close and personal shooting that is the
forte of a big-bore six-gun.
Go take a look at this handgun and add it to your
collection, my guess is they won’t be around too long
Thunder Ranch Model 22 Revolver Specifications