The snubnose revolver has been a cornerstone of concealed carry for a long time, and despite the huge influx of small, lightweight semiautomatics, the snubby hangs in there. And for good reason: It's not only light, handy and completely reliable, it can be chambered in big-time cartridges that little pistols simply can't match. Primarily I'm talking about the .357 Magnum, a cartridge Smith & Wesson's Model 360 Airweight is built to handle.
The company's J-frame Airweight series dates back to the 1950s when these guns—chambered first to .38 Special—were built from aluminum frames and cylinders. Problems with cracking led to a change to steel cylinders. Today's Airweights feature scandium alloy frames and are among the lightest guns you can buy—and can handle a lot more power than the original .38 Special.
The new Model 360 Airweight profiled here features a scandium alloy frame, finished in black. The right side is etched with the Smith & Wesson logo and "Airweight" in cursive.
The unfluted cylinder is stainless steel, also finished in black courtesy of a PVD (physical vapor deposit) finish that resists corrosion. The stainless steel barrel is 1.9 inches long. This combination produces a revolver weighing only 14.9 ounces. For comparison, my all-steel Model 640 Pro, also a J-frame snubby, weighs 22.4 ounces.
The M360 Airweight's synthetic grips are synthetic, which comes in handy when you're shooting hefty loads because they do soak up some of the recoil impulse. They feature finger grooves that fit my medium-size hands just fine, and I like the new flat dark earth color.
The exposed hammer spur is nicely serrated and well-shaped, as is the cylinder release. The cylinder shows faint drag marks after a couple hundred rounds, and that's to be expected, so the timing of the cylinder stop is what it should be.
Above the cylinder latch is Smith & Wesson's internal lock system. Rotating the lock counterclockwise with the supplied key locks the hammer and trigger.
The rear sight is a notch in the topstrap, and the front is a pinned-in serrated ramp with a red insert. It's a serviceable setup, although I have to admit it was hard for me to get a clear sight picture with it in the shadow of the covered firing line, but I wear bifocals, and short-barreled handguns are always a problem in this regard.
Also, most loads shot six inches low at the 15-yard accuracy testing distance. The lone exception to that was the Hornady with the old standard 158-grain bullet. However, at practical distances—five to seven yards—the gun had no problems putting bullets in the A zone of an IPSC target when I did my part.
In addition to the accuracy testing, I ran several boxes of .38 Special through the Airweight for some drills and compared it side by side with my 640 Pro. It came as no surprise that I was able to hit faster and easier with the Pro. It's my own gun after all, and it's heavier and has better sights. But I was impressed with how close the two were. In one five-yard drill my times for five shots were only about half a second slower with the Airweight, although I tended to throw one with that gun while usually shooting clean with my Pro.
The Airweight has a good trigger for a production revolver. The double-action pull came in at 11 pounds, 13 ounces, with normal stacking. The single-action pull was a crisp, consistent two pounds, 11 ounces.
But even a good trigger isn't going to help much when it comes to shooting full-house .357 Magnum loads out of a such a light gun. Here was where the weight difference between the two snubbies was most telling. I wouldn't call firing magnums out of the Pro exactly fun, but with the Airweight it was brutal, as you would expect.
Drill times with the Airweight were half a second to a full second slower with the magnums, and I wasn't able to run any of the five-yard drills clean with all A-zone hits. And while the synthetic grips helped some, you definitely get belted.
I've never been in a gunfight, so I can't vouch for the belief that you won't notice recoil in a defensive encounter, and I'm sure if you're a glutton for punishment you can do enough training with magnum loads that you will be able to use them with the confidence.
With this gun, I would stick with .38 Specials or perhaps +P loads and concentrate on shot placement. As we've seen with the whole "9mm vs .45 ACP" argument, which is currently being won by the 9mm, ammo has come a long way, and the .38—which has been defending people for decades—is better than it ever was.
Smith & Wesson
Model 360 Airweight
Type: single-action/double-action revolver
Caliber: .357 Magnum
Barrel: 1.88 in. stainless
OAL/Height/Width: 6.4/4.9/1.3 in.
Weight: 14.9 oz.
Construction: black scandium alloy frame, PVD black-coated stainless steel cylinder
Grips: flat dark earth synthetic
Trigger: double action, 11.8 lb.; single action, 2.7 lb.
Sights: notched topstrap rear; pinned, serrated, red-ramp front
Safety: internal trigger/hammer key lock
Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson,