Periodically I like to haul myself out behind the wood-shed and kick my own ass over all of the guns I’ve parted with over the years. Largely because some of those guns, once considered common as hen’s teeth, have become so valuable that I can’t afford to replace them now. I can hardly believe the prices of some guns that we took for granted back in the day.
Well, I almost did it to myself again this year. In the wake of the house fire and with the holidays coming on I looked at my S&W Model 28 and thought I should maybe part with it. I was a bit ambivalent about it, but I half-heartedly offered it for sale at a decent price. When no one bit within a reasonable time I quietly forgot the idea of selling it. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I did!
This gun isn’t the first time I’ve had a Model 28; back when I was a small-town cop I carried one as my duty weapon for a few weeks. It was big and heavy, but I was a big kid and didn’t so much mind. What I really remember most about that gun was the excellent double-action trigger and how it tamed the .357.
A couple decades on I took one in trade that had belonged to a Sherrif’s deputy. Despite its years of service it’s in fine condition and sports beautiful maple grips that fit my large hands to a T. The trigger pulls in double and single action are excellent too. They may have been worked over at one time or another, but maybe not; some of these old S&Ws came from the factory pretty sweet.
In the years since it’s been hunting with me several times and come within heartbeats of taking a deer, Unfortunately I was deep in the pucker-brush and couldn’t quite make out if it was a doe or a spike buck and had to let the shot pass.
The Model 28 Highway Patrolman is a direct descendant of the original S&W Registered Magnum, made from 1935-1941. This was the first-ever handgun chambered in the cartridge, and it was instantly prized by law-enforcement officers for its power and penetration.
The Registered Magnum was a beautifully finished and polished gun, with adjustable sights and hand-cut checkering on the top of the frame. General George Patton famously carried a nickel-plated pearl-handled 3-1/2” barreled Registered Magnum throughout World War II. Production stopped in 1941 so that Smith and Wesson could focus on the war effort, and when it resumed in the late 1940’s it was known as ‘The .357 Magnum Revolver.’ This worked just fine because it was the only one in production. It became known as the Model 27 in the mid 1950’s when S&W rationalized their naming conventions and model numbers.
The Model 27 really only had one problem; with it’s high levels of finish and hand-work it was expensive, and by the early 1950s law enforcement officers and agencies were requesting a less expensive, more utilitarian version. In 1954 S&W obliged by introducing the Highway Patrolman, which soon became the Model 28.
S&W wasn’t in the habit of creating a new model by removing features, but it worked out fine. Gone was the deeply polished blueing and the hand-cut checkering, replaced by a bead-blasted blue finish. But the essentials are still there, and at a much more affordable price. The Model 28 was hugely successful and remained in production until 1985.
We think of these guns as big guns now, but at the time they were made all large-bore guns were big. It was a function of both the physical size of cartridges like .45 Colt and .44 Special, and the metallurgy of the times. It just flat took a lot of metal to hold the pressures generated by the .357 Magnum back in 1935. Time marched on; the metallurgy and heat treat improved and it was possible to introduce the cartridge in the K frame guns like the Model 19, which gave you the power of a .357 in a much lighter and more compact package.
The trend has continued until now you can get J-Frames in this caliber, or their equivalent, from just about everyone that manufactures revolvers. These days the N-frame .357 revolvers justify their size by packing 2 extra rounds into that big cylinder, but all that mechanical complexity and careful fitting comes at a steep price.
If you fancy one of these guns you’d better get it now; just a few years ago when I got mine it was reckoned to be worth $250-$350. Now they are routinely selling at $500-$600, and typically that sort of trend doesn’t reverse itself.
I’m glad this old Model 28 didn’t become one of the guns I kick myself for selling, and I’ll keep it around for probably as long as I’m around. Yes, it’s kind of a dinosaur, but then so am I. We’ll get on just fine.