A Handgun Beauty: Smith & Wesson Model 52

A Handgun Beauty: Smith & Wesson Model 52

My all-time favorite handgun is the Smith & Wesson Model 52 target pistol. I love its clean lines, grip that is perfect for me, light trigger pull and excellent sights. I purchased my Model 52 in 1979, roughly 18 years after its introduction. In History of Smith & Wesson, author Roy Jinks notes production was slow due to the fact tolerances within the gun were tighter than regular production guns. In fact, so slow that in the first year of production only 90 pistols were made.

The gun got its excellent grip frame from the Model 39, and initially the lockwork of its double-action trigger came from the Model 39 as well. That did not sit well with competitive shooters, so Smith & Wesson redesigned the trigger as a crisp single-action-only and designated the gun as a Model 52-1 to indicate the modification. My gun is a Model 52-2, which incorporated a change to a coil-spring extractor—another Model 39 feature.

The Model 52 is one handsome gun. The fit and finish are superb, the polishing is above reproach, and the bluing is rich and deep. The polishing on this gun is done to perfection—especially on hard-to-reach areas like the inside and outside of the trigger guard where it meets the frame; the backstrap, to include the base of the beavertail; and within and around the cast on checkering.

The target sights are of the highest caliber, with a rear notch perfectly cut to ensure a good sight picture over the long sight radius to the front sight blade. The sights can be adjusted with a coin. The gun has a novel barrel bushing that, with the aid of a special included tool, allowed the shooter tighten or loosen the bushing to tune it for accuracy.


The barrel itself has a hard-chromed “ball” of sorts at the end that fits within the bushing, and it eliminates wobble and friction. Precise camming at the rear of the barrel results in a tight lockup, and the polished feed ramp provides flawless feeding.


I found the gun’s balance to be a bit light for me, but Smith & Wesson included a weight that slips right over the frame to add a few ounces. I also customized my gun with a set of Goncalo Alves grip panels, and I bought an empty S&W presentation case that I redesigned with a custom insert to hold the gun, spare magazines and the barrel wrench.


Smith & Wesson took one gun and tested it with more than 100,000 rounds of lead bullet ammo without it showing any appreciable wear. I fire flush-seated 1480 wadcutter handloads through mine, and it shoots like a dream. After nearly four decades in my possession, it’s still my favorite handgun.

Recommended for You

The Ruger SR1911 is offered in two versions, an all-stainless in .45 ACP (model # 6762) and a two-tone aluminum-framed model in 9mm (model # 6758). This review by James Tarr will focus on the 9mm. 1911

Ruger SR1911 Officer-Style 9mm Review

James Tarr - May 01, 2019

The Ruger SR1911 is offered in two versions, an all-stainless in .45 ACP (model # 6762) and a...

The Ruger Security 9 Compact 9mm (model # 3818) is a shootable, dependable gun with a low price tag. Compact

Ruger Security 9 Compact Review

J. Scott Rupp

The Ruger Security 9 Compact 9mm (model # 3818) is a shootable, dependable gun with a low...

As you will learn in this detailed review, the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ 380 (manufacturer SKU # 180023) is an easy-racking, soft-shooting pistol. Compact

Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ 380 Review

James Tarr - November 06, 2018

As you will learn in this detailed review, the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ 380 (manufacturer...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

All About Handgun Ammo

All About Handgun Ammo

Rich and Jim get into the nitty gritty of the FBI ammo protocol, firing into various barriers to illustrate what can happen to a bullet.

Going To The Range

Going To The Range

Jim and Scott show you how to make each trip to the shooting range a quality experience.

Dealing with Subcompacts

Dealing with Subcompacts

Jim and Rich cover the benefits and the challenges presented by very small pistols.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Do you remember the first time you fired a gun? If you're like most, you were somewhat Training

Pro Tips For Controlling Recoil

Richard Nance - April 11, 2017

Do you remember the first time you fired a gun? If you're like most, you were somewhat

Kahr Arms officially broke ground on their new headquarters in Blooming Grove Township, in Pike Industry

Kahr Arms Breaks Ground on New Pennsylvania HQ

Handguns Online Staff - June 04, 2014

Kahr Arms officially broke ground on their new headquarters in Blooming Grove Township, in...

The number of accessories and aftermarket upgrades for the SIG P320 is only going to increase. Accessories

SIG P320 Accessories and Upgrades

James Tarr - December 14, 2017

The number of accessories and aftermarket upgrades for the SIG P320 is only going to increase.

See More Stories

More Semi-Auto

The SIG P365 is an excellent 9mm carry pistol—one that's rated for +P ammo—and it's now available with a manual thumb safety. Reviews

SIG Sauer P365 MS Review

J. Scott Rupp - July 25, 2019

The SIG P365 is an excellent 9mm carry pistol—one that's rated for +P ammo—and it's now...

Smith & Wesson has boosted the power of its excellent M&P Shield EZ with a hot new version in 9mm. Semi-Auto

Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield EZ – First Look

J. Scott Rupp - December 11, 2019

Smith & Wesson has boosted the power of its excellent M&P Shield EZ with a hot new version in...

CMMG has announced the Banshee 10mm Mk10 with a Radial Delayed Blowback operating system and Last-Round Bolt Hold Open; the bar has been raised when it comes to innovating the AR to handle powerful cartridges like the 10mm. Semi-Auto

CMMG Banshee 10mm Mk10 First Look

Handguns Digital Staff - September 13, 2019

CMMG has announced the Banshee 10mm Mk10 with a Radial Delayed Blowback operating system and...

See More Semi-Auto

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.