June 12, 2019
Photos by Michael Anschuetz
To call the Model 19 a classic .357 Magnum revolver is a bit of an understatement. Introduced in the late 1950s, the Model 19 was the result of a collaborative effort between famed Border Patrol agent, gunfighter and author Bill Jordan and Smith & Wesson.
At the time, .357 Magnum revolvers were built on the N frame. Jordan’s goal was for Smith & Wesson to develop a magnum revolver built on the lighter, more compact K frame, which had been chambered in .38 Special. Cops weren’t fond of wearing bulky .357 Magnum-chambered sidearms, yet they didn’t want to be relegated to carrying a .38 Special. The challenge was to design a smaller-framed revolver that was wieldier than the N frame yet could stand up to the considerable pressure associated with .357 Magnum loads.
Originally termed the Combat Magnum, the Model 19 quickly earned a reputation as a reliable defensive handgun and police duty sidearm. Its four-inch barrel and adjustable rear sights made it a favorite among cops, who often had the action tuned for a smoother trigger pull. It was undoubtedly more comfortable to carry than the bulkier N-frame revolvers it was intended to replace.
Cops were so enamored with the Model 19 that Smith & Wesson produced an extended barreled variant for patrolmen and a snubnosed version for plainclothes or off-duty officers. The Model 19 was the sidearm of choice for the American cop from the late 1950s until the early 1980s, when higher-capacity and faster-to-load, semiautomatic pistols changed the game.
Smith & Wesson stopped manufacturing the Model 19 in 1999, and while you’re not likely to find a six-shooter like the Model 19 on an officer’s hip these days, it remains relevant as a home-defense and concealed-carry gun.
Nostalgia aside, revolvers are an underrated option for personal defense. While they don’t have the ammunition capacity of most semiautomatic pistols, they are still around for a reason: They are easy to operate and are the gold standard in reliability.
With a revolver, there are no “failure to feed” or “failures to eject” malfunctions you need to worry about clearing. If the revolver doesn’t go bang when you pull the trigger, just pull the trigger again. Also, revolvers like the Model 19 don’t require the user to manipulate a safety, which if engaged or disengaged inappropriately could have catastrophic consequences. Simplicity breeds reliability, and with a revolver you can trust your life on its point-and-shoot operability.
Recently, the Smith & Wesson Performance Center revamped the tried-and-true Model 19. The Performance Center updated the design, resulting in a custom revolver right out of the box. Dubbed the Carry Comp, this “new” revolver retains all the familiar features that made the Model 19 a classic. But the Carry Comp isn’t a mere reproduction. It’s an improvement.
Like its predecessors, the Carry Comp is constructed of a blued carbon-steel frame and cylinder, but the Carry Comp’s finish is bead-blasted rather than polished as the original Model 19 was.
The Carry Comp also features a stainless steel barrel. However, the barrel on the Carry Comp veers significantly from the original. For starters, the Carry Comp’s barrel is just three inches long, making it easy to conceal, and yet it still provides a sufficient sight radius for accuracy.
The PowerPort vented barrel aids in recoil management, which is always a concern when shooting .357 Magnum rounds. Controlling your revolver in recoil doesn’t just mean a more comfortable shooting experience. In a self-defense scenario, this is what enables you to fire potentially lifesaving rapid and accurate follow-up shots.
The Carry Comp’s rear sight is adjustable for windage and elevation. Unlike the original Model 19, the Carry Comp’s Trijicon front sight blade features a tritium insert, which provides today’s shooter the ability to see the front sight even in darkened environments.
The front of the cylinder on the Carry Comp is slightly beveled for easy holstering, and you won’t find a rough edge anywhere on it. Its contours make the gun comfortable to handle and, more importantly, easy to draw from concealment.
The original Model 19 with a 2.5-inch barrel featured a boot grip, and the four- and six-inch versions had a square grip. The Carry Comp sports a beautiful, checkered custom wood boot grip, which is rounded and smooth to keep the revolver from snagging on a garment when drawn but has just enough texturing to keep it from sliding around in your hand when firing. The boot grip also minimizes printing when carrying concealed.
The Carry Comp also comes with a rubberized boot grip option. The rubber grip dampens felt recoil and also makes the gun even more stable in the hand than the smooth wood grips. You get both grip options with the gun, so you can experiment to see which you prefer. As an aftermarket option, you can buy a Crimson Trace grip that would afford you the benefits of an aiming laser.
As you would expect from a Performance Center gun, the Carry Comp’s action has been fine-tuned. The trigger features an overtravel stop, which I didn’t touch because there was no overtravel. The trigger is quite smooth in double action. According to my trigger pull gauge, it broke at 11 pounds, five ounces. In single action, the trigger broke at four pounds, 11 ounces. That’s an excellent revolver trigger. The relatively flat and wide trigger face provides solid purchase for a smooth and efficient trigger pull.
The hammer has been rounded to mitigate snagging, and it’s knurled for optimal purchase to cock and decock the revolver. While it’s not necessarily an option in a rapidly evolving defensive scenario, having the ability to cock the hammer for a short, crisp single-action trigger pull could save the day when accuracy is paramount.
For accuracy testing, I braced the Carry Comp on a sandbag and shot several single-action groups at 15 yards with six loads: three .357 Magnum loads and three .38 Special +P loads. Despite the additional velocity and associated increased recoil, the Carry Comp proved equally accurate with the. 357 loads and the .38 Special +P loads. It’s worth noting that at 25 yards my rounds were hitting a foot low and eight inches left, but this was easily corrected by turning the rear sight’s adjustment screws.
Being far more accustomed to the comparatively short and light trigger pull of a semiautomatic pistol, I wasn’t sure what type of accuracy to expect from the finely tuned Carry Comp. As you can see in the accompanying chart, the Carry Comp produced predictably accurate results, averaging two inches for the .38 Special loads and roughly the same for the .357 loads. The Hornady .357 load in particular printed tight groups, even better than the .38s
Thanks to its bullet weight, the ARX .357 load felt like shooting a .38 Special, and that made it easy to shoot well. While fun to shoot and definitely an interesting concept, I think I’d stick to more traditionally weighted .357 loads for personal or home defense.
With the accuracy testing complete, I shot various loads at seven yards double action, which is the most likely way you’d fire it in a defensive, concealed-carry scenario. When slow-firing, I was able to keep tight groups, reminiscent of the rested single-action groups. Of course, when I picked up the pace, the groups widened. Still, even when I shot as quickly as I could pull the trigger, I was able to shoot fist-size groups, which is more than sufficient for personal defense.
The Carry Comp is an excellent revolver for personal or home defense. It strikes the right balance of concealability and shootability. It carries better than a full-size revolver but is much easier to shoot than a snubbie—especially when loaded in .357 Magnum.
At 34 ounces, the Carry Comp is not light, but it is compact and comfortable to wear, and the rounded edges and boot grip make it a cinch to conceal. Best of all, it is comfortingly reliable and accurate. The PowerPort vented barrel reduces muzzle flip, allowing for more control, and the tritium front sight enables you to aim even in total darkness.
If you’re a fan of the Model 19, you’re going to love the new and improved Carry Comp. It’s the rare sequel that is better than the original. Whether for concealed carry or home defense, the Carry Comp is the last revolver you’ll ever need.
SMITH & WESSON MODEL 19 CARRY COMP
TYPE: double-action/single-action revolver
CALIBER: .357 Magnum
BARREL: 3 in.
OAL/HEIGHT/WIDTH: 8/5/1.5 in.
WEIGHT: 34 oz.
CONSTRUCTION: carbon steel cylinder and frame; stainless steel barrel
GRIPS: custom wood and synthetic, supplied
SIGHTS: black adjustable rear, tritium front blade
TRIGGER: single action, 4 lb., 11 oz. pull; double action, 11 lb., 5 oz. pull
MANUFACTURER: Smith & Wesson, smith-wesson.com