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GUNS Magazine December 2012 Digital Edition - Page 8

STORY: Massad Ayoob long about 1950, S&W introduced what would become A the most popular concealment revolver in the world in the J-frame .38 Special. The original Chiefs Special Debate rages over which is better: “hammerless” or “thumb-cocking” S&W J-frame models. HAMMER OR… “-LESS?” had a conventional external hammer and could be fired double or single action. In 1952, firearms authority Rex Applegate convinced S&W to make the same gun with the sleek internal hammer design of the old top-break New Departure Safety Hammerless revolver of 1887 . Since it was introduced in the year Smith & Wesson was celebrating its 100th anniversary format, this “hammerless Chief Special” was dubbed the Centennial. In 1955 came a third variation, the Bodyguard. This was the company’s answer to the removable hammer shroud that had grown in popularity since their archrival Colt introduced it for their small-frame snubs in 1950. On the Bodyguard, the shroud was integral to the frame and looked sleeker, but still left a nub of hammer spur exposed for single-action cocking. Grant Cunningham with the J-frame he feels is the smoothest, the Centennial. Note the higher hold afforded by Centennial (right), which lowers the bore axis more than the Chief (left). We all have our preferences. For my needs, I’m inclined toward the Centennial hammerless. Here’s why. The “hammerless” model’s most obvious advantage is its snag-free profile. The great police weapons authority of the past, Paul B. Weston, described the conventional hammer spur as found on the Chief Special as a “fish-hook” that tended to snag on clothing and stall a fast draw. Even so, bobbing the Chief’s hammer can eliminate the snags, or choose the Bodyguard which has a smoothdrawing shape fans affectionately call “the hump-back.” One thing the Centennial offers that its siblings can’t is a higher grasp. The shape of its frame allows the shooter’s hand to get all the way up that high “horn” of its backstrap. This puts the bore axis proportionally lower to the wrist than either of the other styles, and affords significant leverage to the shooter. Muzzle rise is less, allowing a faster rate of accurate rapid fire. This is a very significant advantage to the Centennial, and is the main reason I so often carry one while my Chiefs and my Bodyguard lie neglected in the gun safe. The rationale of the dual singleaction/double-action capability is the option of cocking the hammer for an easy single-action trigger pull, “for a precision shot.” The thing 8 W W W. G U N S M A G A Z I N E . C O M • D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 2

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