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Sierra Bullets
Rifle Magazine
December - January 2003
Volume 38, Number 6
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 226
On the cover...
The Smith & Wesson Model 627-4 .38 Super comes from the Performance Center with a compensator, 5.5-inch barrel and Miculek stocks. Mule deer photo by Ron Spomer.
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It used to be, a revolver was really a “six-shooter” but not anymore. The proliferation of specialized revolver competitions has effloresced into an array of new and different wheel-guns, and the new Smith & Wesson Model 627 from its Performance Center is the latest and, perhaps, greatest yet.

If I have the chronology right, first up were seven-shot .357 Magnums from Taurus in its Model 66 and Smith & Wesson in its L-frame Model 686 Plus (164198). Seemingly right on the heels of the seven-shots, Taurus stepped in with an eight-shot .357 Magnum – the Model 608. S&W subsequently produced a couple Model 627 N-frame eight-shot .357 Magnums – the V-Comp (170142) in October 1997 and the current .357 MAG-8 TIMES (170210) from the Performance Center. The S&W 627s were supplied with full-moon clips; the Taurus 608s had to be converted for their use (see Handloader No. 198). The rapidly burgeoning revolver-only crowd now has its own sanctioning      organization, the International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts – I.C.O.R.E. These guys excoriate “bottom feeders” (semiautomatics) and have flocked to the new eight-holers like ’coons to a corn patch. With the addition of the new 627 in .38 Super, they should be captivated.

The new N-frame PC .38 Super is stamped “627-4” on the frame under the crane and has about every bell and whistle you could want in a competition revolver. The nominal 5.5-inch barrel is actually 5.475 inches in rifled length but measures 5.920 inches with a removable compensator in place and 5.625 inches with the supplied muzzle cap. The top strap is, of course, drilled and tapped for a scope mount. Thus, the same handgun can be used in both stock and open classes by simply removing the compensator and optical sight and reinstalling the fully adjustable rear sight and protective cap. The cylinder is 1.427 inches long, which makes the .541-inch barrel extension appear prominent. With a diameter of 1.715 inches, the cylinder should be amply strong for the .38 Super.

With the .38 Super’s puny excuse for a rim, there has to be a mechanism for reliably extracting the empties. The solution is, of course, the ubiquitous full-moon clip system that has been applied to many other revolvers. The loaded clips slip right into the cylinder – usually. If a clip is even slightly sprung out of plumb, or if a round has an extra-tight “groove cut,” a cartridge may be sufficiently cocked to bind on the way in. Testing your ammunition in the clips before a big match is a good idea; so is having a good supply of spare clips.

The cylinder on the Model 627 locks up at the rear in the traditional manner with the projection on the bolt, which is operated by the thumbpiece. Up front there is a detent (spring operated ball) in the front of the crane that locks into a V-cut in the barrel underlug. This holds the crane tightly against the frame. The front end of the extractor rod doesn’t touch the barrel underlug.

The single action trigger pull is a delightful 3.5 pounds. The double action pull is about 11 pounds as it comes from the factory and is as smooth as silk. The trigger has a screw on its back to limit overtravel.

The Model 627 comes with red, white and blue wood laminate grips of the shape and size favored by revolver maestro Jerry Miculek. These multicolored grips are available from the S&W Performance Center (24882), as are similarly shaped smooth grips of silver/ black laminate (24654) or walnut (24536). Solid Miculek-style grips of Pau Ferro wood are available from Brownells (100-000-222 for the N-frame round-butt). The Miculek grips are quite smooth, down-right slick and fairly small. Miculek says he wants the revolver to be able to “slip around” in his hand for lightning-fast reloads; he even sometimes puts talc on the grips for extra slip. He opines that, next to a Model 625 .45 ACP revolver (which also uses full-moon clips), the 627 .38 Super can be loaded almost as fast.

The current test revolver belongs to my long-time friend and shooting chum Wally, who knows his way around a handgun (or rifle or shotgun, for that matter) fairly well. Upon learning of the existence of the Model 627, Wally, as Jack O’Conner once said, “itched all over and couldn’t relish his vittles” until he had one. What happened next may sound familiar. The Internet was surfed, the gun was located and the wife fittingly mollified. A fellow named Tom Kilhoffer in Illinois had the revolvers, and Wally finally got one late last year. The 627 comes with a removable muzzle compensator, a solid muzzle cap for limited class, a hex wrench for their removal, five full-moon clips and a nice lockable aluminum case.

Since the Model 627 is a complete package, about the only extras you need are some additional clips, and these are available from S&W Performance Center (19213) or from Kilhoffer. Both clips are .036 inch thick, but the similarity ends there. Those from S&W are about 1.320 inches in diameter and have a .626-inch hole in their center. Similar measurements in the clips from Kilhoffer are 1.392 inches and .634 inch. More significantly, the S&W clips have a little slit in the metal between the cartridge cut-outs. This makes loading and unloading the clips a snap. The Kilhoffer clips lack this slit, and consequently these operations take more ef-   fort and an appropriate tool. One can use the “clip wrench” supplied by Smith & Wesson, which looks suspiciously like those used for the Model 625 .45 ACP, or get a Brownells “moon clip stripper” (352-197-100 for .38s and 10mm). This little gem works like a charm and is worth its weight in primers.

My friend Wally is a faithful Handloader reader and was dismayed there had not been a write-up on his treasure. So, at a recent Regional I.C.O.R.E. Championship, he asked me to do an article on the 627 and graciously offered the use of his revolver for the project. He even loaned me his reloading dies. What a guy!

Like all revolver guys, Wally reveres Jerry Miculek but has his own ideas as to what works for him and is not a slave to fashion. You will note in the photograph that the slick red, white and blue grips have some big patches of black on them. This is nothing more than “skateboard tape” that Wally applied to the sides and front of the grips for a little traction. He loves it, but the stuff abrades a blister on my tender paws after about 50 rounds. I don’t like the small grips either. A full-size Hogue wood or soft rubber grip fits my hand much better, but to each his own.

Wally is not one to let well enough alone, so his fiddling did not stop with the grips. He had the stock Patridge front sight removed and replaced it with an SMD S&W Revolver Super Sight. The sight itself is .125 inch wide and contains a .060 inch diameter fiber optic rod that is one inch long. It is available in .250 and .300 inch heights and in red or green from Brownells. Use of this front sight required milling off the front ramp and the installation of a new base from Weigand Combat Handguns, Inc. The rear sight blade was also replaced with a nice black target model, also from Weigand. The new red fiber optic front shows up like a beacon in the night through the rear sight’s .135 inch wide notch.

Last, but not least, he installed a Bang, Inc., Miculek Revolver Spring Kit (Brownells 100-000-223). Bang recommends “For best results, ammo should use Federal primers.” This setup is a bit different. If there is any change to the single-action pull, it is somewhat heavier – but still fine. The real difference is to the double action, which is lightened to about 7 pounds, and the dynamics are changed so that as the DA stroke nears letoff, it actually seems to get lighter. It has to be felt to be really appreciated.

Loading for the Model 627 is straightforward. Many .38 Super competitors load the cartridge to the nines to “make major” and use jacketed bullets to avoid excessive lube smoke, promote more reliable feeding and (sometimes) produce better accuracy.

However, the goal here was to develop loads suitable for various power levels for match competition with cast bullets. I also know that many revolver competitors also use jacketed bullets, but I almost never do. So, partly by convention, and partly in deference to the 627’s bore, I tested a wide range of cast bullets with suitable powders. The local Bushwacker Bullet Company graciously supplied a variety of cast bullets for testing.

Wally had already worked up a couple loads for his Model 627, one for match use and the other a jacketed hollowpoint load for, well, jacketed hollowpoint purposes, I guess.

The jacketed load used the ever excellent Hornady 147-grain XTP bullet and either 4.6 or 4.9 grains of Hodgdon’s HP-38. Velocities were 992 and 1,046 fps, respectively, and the average accuracy for the XTPs was 1.31 inches, right in there with the cast bullet loads.

His match load uses the Oregon Trail Bullet Company’s Laser-Cast 145-grain roundnose over 3.5 grains of HP-38. I shot a few groups with his ammunition, and it was very accurate – averaging a hair over an inch. Recoil was low, and the modest velocity of 838 fps made for a power factor of 122.

I fired three .38 Super factory loads, just for comparison. There was none. I’m sure that somewhere there is a .38 Super yearning to digest some of this factory fodder, but the Model 627 choked on them. These 130-grain FMJ loads plunked into about 3-inch groups with velocities only slightly higher than Wally’s XTP loads. Like I said, it was for comparison only.

For loading chores, I used Wally’s Lee Carbide Pistol Dies (90623), and all loaded rounds were crimped in Lee’s Carbide Factory Crimp Die (90866) to provide a uniform and solid crimp. Wally assembles his ammunition on a bank of progressive loaders, but for these test loads, I used the Lee dies in a new Redding T-7 Turret press (67000), which made loading small batches of test ammunition a breeze.

The test loads were fired off a sandbag rest at 25 yards. Wally uses a C-More sight on the Model 627 in open class, but for this project I mounted a spare Tasco PDP3 5-minute dot sight and went at it. All loads were chronographed with an Oehler Model 35P chronograph. In the course of firing many hundreds of test loads, there was not a single malfunction of any kind.

A total of 64 handloads and three factory loads were tested in the Model 627, and the results are shown in the accompanying table. One of my favorite 9mm bullets is the 122-grain Bushwacker flatnose, and it obviously liked the 627 too. The average of all loads tested with it was 1.31 inches. With several powders, this bullet regularly punched out groups of about an inch with power factors in the 140s. Winchester Super Field (WSF) and Titegroup didn’t match the accuracy of Universal and W-231. I used the 4.6-grain Universal load in a local match, and it was a fine shooting load – light recoil, plenty of plate power and great accuracy.

Probably more 9mm Luger ammunition is loaded with 125-grain bullets than any other, and the two I tried in the Model 627 were somewhat of a dichotomy. With the SWC configuration, groups averaged 1.46 inches with good uniformity and ample power factors. It was hard to pick a “best” load for it, since there were several good ones, so I’ll go with a tie: either 5.0 grains of Universal for a velocity of 1,173 fps and a group average of 1.10 inches, or 6.0 grains of Vihtavuori N350 at 1,187 fps and average accuracy of 1.10 inches. Conversely, the 125-grain roundnose version averaged only 2.01 inches – poor for this gun. A charge of 4.2 grains of Titegroup did great with a group average of 1.06 inches and a velocity of 1,092 fps; it was the best load for this bullet.

In addition to Wally’s Laser-Cast load noted above, the 145-grain Bushwacker roundnose was also very accurate. It averaged a sizzling 1.08 inches, and half the loads tested averaged under an inch. Power factors were plenty – in the 140 to 160 range. Working up a major power load with this bullet weight with Accurate Arms No. 7 or WSF would be a snap.

Another very popular 9mm bullet is the 147-grain flatnose, and the Bushwacker version averaged 1.23 inches. A modest charge of 3.3 grains of Titegroup produced a group average of .91 inch at a velocity of 937 fps. With a power factor of 138, this would be a perfectly fine match load. With 4.4 grains of Longshot, groups still averaged under an inch, and velocity was a bit peppier at 1,058 fps. With a power factor of 156, a major load with this bullet and powder would be easy too.

As noted, Hodgdon’s new Longshot shotgun powder did very well in the .38 Super, but after testing a few loads with it, I decided to rename it “Loudshot.” The noise upon firing with this powder was noticeably louder than other powders.

At the aforementioned I.C.O.R.E. match, I somehow managed to win a box of cast bullets from Michael Krogmeier of Rock Hill Bullets in Loveland, Colorado. These are nicely finished .356-inch, 158-grain roundnose bullets with no crimping groove – obviously intended for a .38 Super. They turned out to be very accurate in the Model 627 with an overall group average of 1.42 inches.

With these heavier bullets, major power loads were relatively easy to develop; several are identified in the load table. For example, with 7.7 grains of Blue Dot, the 158s averaged .98 inch with a power factor of 191. With VV-N350 velocity was 1,167 fps, and groups averaged 1.42 inches with a power factor of 184. Similar velocities could doubtless be obtained with a bit more AAC-7, WSF and W-571. Of this trio, AAC-7 was slightly more accurate than the two Winchester powders.

For most of my shooting, however, I’d probably use the 158s with one of the more sedate loads at about 850 fps. Accuracy is great, recoil is low and power factors easily exceed 125. The best such load here was 3.4 grains of W-231 at 832 fps with .92-inch groups. With 3.3 grains of Titegroup, velocity was 912 fps but was not as accurate at 1.67 inches.

The average for all loads tested (including the mediocre factory loads) was 1.49 inches, and the average of all lead bullet loads was 1.42 inches. The uniformity of the handloads tested was good with an average coefficient of variation of only .94 percent.

The most accurate bullet was the Bushwacker 145-grain roundnose (1.07 inches), closely followed by its 147-grain flatnose (1.25 inches). The Bushwacker 122-grain flatnose came in at 1.31 inches. In the heavyweight division, the 158-grain Rock Hill roundnose averaged 1.48 inches.

The most accurate powder by a hair was Longshot. Accurate No. 7 and WSF tied for second, and W-231 and Universal tied for third. So basically just pick your poison – either a low velocity for stationary targets or a screamer for the mover. There are plenty of fine bullet and powder choices out there.

If a revolver competitor needs the epitome of wheel-guns, this is it, and it is certainly a delight to shoot and work with. Every nuance of this revolver is geared toward a slight advantage in playing the revolver game, but of course, you can’t buy a winning performance. Jerry Miculek can beat the socks off most anyone with a stock 4-inch Model 10. But all the refinements in the Model 627 – both large and small – add up and allow a shooter to do his or her best.

It is gratifying to see Smith & Wesson back at the top of its game, and that the perfidy of its previous owners did not destroy one of America’s premier firearms institutions. The new Performance Center Model 627 certainly exemplifies this renaissance.

Straight Shooters Cast Bullets
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