July 31, 2020
By Payton Miller
Smith & Wesson’s hugely successful Military & Police service revolver morphed into the Model 10 in 1957—when the company began numbering its models. It’s since served as the launching pad for a head-spinning array of handguns.
Barrel lengths/configurations, calibers, sight types and finishes may change, but the basic template has always been a medium-frame revolver featuring either a round or square butt.
The .357 Magnum made its medium-frame, mid-1950s debut in the Model 19—a beautiful, adjustable-sighted revolver envisioned by its champion, Bill Jordan, as the ultimate law-enforcement tool. In 1974, however, a down-and-dirty, fixed-sight, heavy-barreled .357 variation on the Model 10 theme appeared: the Model 13.
Originally a square-butt four-inch gun, it was followed later by a three-inch round-butt version that has the distinction of being the last FBI-issue revolver before the Great Semiauto Takeover.
Oddly enough, the Model 13’s stainless twin, the Model 65, actually preceded it by a couple of years, and the first Smith I ever owned was a Model 65. I liked it, but I was less than enchanted with the fact it was stainless steel, a bit of retro snobbery that sparked a long, long search for a Model 13. Apparently, I had some competing soulmates in the carbon steel/blued department because it took me quite a spell.
When I found it, there was one kicker. It had a square butt. I knew enough about the Model 13 to know that the cataloged three-inch guns of FBI fame all had round butts.
Well, a bit of consultation with gun writer Massad Ayoob provided the answer. Seems Smith & Wesson made a limited run of square-butt three-inch guns for an Australian agency—some of which managed to filter back here to the States.
The fact that it was a three-inch made it instantly more desirable. I’m a sucker for three-inch Smiths in either J- or K-frame configuration. Many hot hours slaving over a chronograph have shown me the velocity increase from a two- to a three-inch barrel is considerably more significant than that between a three- and four-inch barrel—particularly with +P .38s in the 125- to 158-grain weight range. With .357s? I don’t much care. My days of shooting high-test magnums out of anything smaller than a Marlin lever action are pretty much done.
And there’s one more argument for a three-inch gun over the classic three-inch snubbie: The added stretch of sight radius makes the sight picture much more forgiving.
The sights are fixed and pretty much bulletproof, so a bit of fooling around with different loads is required in order to find a reasonable compromise between point of aim with point of impact.
My used Model 13 was one of those “carried a lot, shot a little” specimens that make it possible for Smith & Wesson nuts to own more long-out-of-production classics than they could otherwise afford.
Mine was far from pristine, but I didn’t care. It had a couple of desirable old-school features as far as I was concerned—namely a blued finish, a pinned barrel (Smith & Wesson began crush-fitting its barrels in the early 1980s) and that square butt. It also had a factory bobbed hammer that appealed to me, as it would force me to work on double-action shooting.
I chose 20 feet as the yardage to check the zero on those low-profile fixed sights. Since I’d installed a lighter trigger return spring—a Wolff spring I bought from Brownells—the double-action pull weight on my Model 13 was just a hair over six pounds and smooth as butter.
I decided to stick with two loads that would be period-appropriate selections from the Model 13’s heyday. Back in the mid-1970s, during the final law enforcement pre-9mm hurrah for the .38 Special, there were two preeminent loads for those who didn’t like .357s. One was the so-called “Treasury load,” a 110-grain jacketed hollowpoint; the other was the “FBI load,” a +P 158-grain lead semi-wadcutter hollowpoint.
My Aussie Model 13 preferred the FBI load from Buffalo Bore over some vintage Super Vel 110-grain jacketed hollowpoints—marked “Police Only.” This was fine by me. I’ve always thought a 125-grain minimum was preferable for any .38/.357.
What was also gratifying was the fact it shot generic 130-grain full-metal-jacket ammo at about the same point of impact as most 125-grain +P jacketed hollowpoints. Unfortunately, it didn’t shoot my handloaded 148-grain wadcutters worth a whoop. But that’s a small price to pay for such a handy, packable chunk of a vintage service revolver.
My gun was manufactured in 1979—which, at my age, doesn’t seem all that vintage. The Model 13 was discontinued in 1998, but it’s still worth looking for.