The S&W Model 60 at Half-a-Century

The Smith & Wesson Model 60 bridges gaps. I’ve owned a few Smiths over the years, J-frames mostly, but I’ve got a 686 that I’ll never willingly part with. The 686 is a monster with a 6″ barrel, and most of the J-frame .38s I’ve owned were snubbies with short grips, but the 3″ S&W Model 60 feels like the perfect blend between the two.

Smith & Wesson Performance Center Model 60
The Performance Center Model 60 from Smith & Wesson is a J-frame .357 that bridges the gap between OWB carry and IWB concealability.

The Model 60 has a full-sized grip, and a 3″ barrel, but it still runs .357s without punishing recoil. It is big enough, without being too big, and small enough to carry comfortably and conceal.

Smith & Wesson Model 60
For the last year, I’ve been riding with the Model 60 in my truck. I tend to carry it places where I used to carry my S & W 686—lots of long hikes and hunts.

I sound a bit like Goldilocks, but that’s what it is. This revolver is, for me and the way I shoot, just the right size.

The Smith & Wesson Model 60

Smith introduced the Model 60 way back in 1965. That’s before my time. But like a lot of the artifacts of that era, it feels timeless.

S&W Model 60 revolver round barrel
The standard Model 60 has a round barrel. The Performance Center version has more mass in the barrel sleeve.

Even then, the Model 60 wasn’t a new design. This gun is essentially a stainless Model 36. The Model 60 was the first all stainless production revolver—just the first of many for S & W.

S&W Model 60 Specs

  • Model Performance Center Pro Series Model 60
  • Caliber 357 Magnum, 38 S&W SPECIAL +P
  • Capacity 5
  • Length 8.7
  • Front Sight Night Sight
  • Rear Sight Adjustable
  • Action Single/Double Action
  • Grip Wood (maybe walnut?–mine has the rubber grips)
  • Cylinder Material Stainless Steel
  • Barrel Material Stainless Steel
  • Frame Material Stainless Steel
  • Frame Finish Satin Stainless
  • Barrel Length 3″ (7.6 cm)
  • Weight 22.9 oz.
  • State Compliance CA, MA

The Model 60 has a long J-frame grip. When the wood or rubber is off, the grip will still comfortably support three fingers, though the pinky has limited real estate. With the extended grips on, the gun fills my hand perfectly.

S&W Model 60 revolver with five rounds of 357 Magnum
The S&W Model 60 only holds five rounds. I carry the Model 60 often when I’m out in the woods, but I carry extra ammo, too.

For those of you accustomed to the flared grips on Colts or bigger Smiths, these will feel small. The grip is more compact, even, than those of most autos.

Shooting the S&W Model 60

This has always been a gun I shoot well. More on that below.

.357 Magnum revolver muzzle flip
I have a harder time holding down the muzzle flip on the .357 than I’d like. It has a decent kick.

Owing to the grip size, the S&W Model 60 points naturally. That helps when I’m moving at speed. With .38s, I can run impressive five-shot strings.

Five rounds of .357 from 25 feet in a methodical double-action pull.
Five rounds of .357 from 25 feet in a methodical double-action pull.

The .357 is a bit harder for me to control at speed. Working on a torso-sized target, I can almost always keep the rounds on the plate, but some of them miss center mass.

shot group from 25 yards with Smith & Wesson Model 60
The same drill at 25 feet, but running the Model 60 as a single-action. It’s a tighter group, but I’m pulling left.

I like running failure drills with this one—three shot groups from the holster, two in the chest, and one in the head.

Shooting slowly, I can dial in the accuracy. I get similar results when shooting controlled double-action pulls and when I cock the hammer before each shot.

 Target with shots from .357 Magnum
Running .357 from the holster in three-shot strings. My first shots were solid, but the kick of the .357 (and my attempts to control it) put some of the follow-up shots way wide.

I’ve shot this revolver at contact distances, and all the way out to 100 yards. While I’m not calling shots at 100 yards, I can put rounds on a 12″ plate with little difficulty.

Smith & Wesson Model 60 cylinder
The cylinder of the Model 60 is thin. With its five-round capacity, it is still easily concealed.

No matter how you shake it, the gun only holds five rounds. Your best option for a fast reload is a speedloader. I’ve used several models on revolvers and they work, though never as well as an old-fashioned tactical reload on a semi-auto.

Performance Center Upgrades

Having owned both a standard Model 60 and this Performance Center version, I can’t tell much about the actual performance upgrade. They both shoot exceptionally well.

S&W Model 60 front sight
Ribs, milled grooves, and a fat front sight. The Model 60’s high-vis orange front sight is easy enough to see.

The front sight is pinned and has a glowing element in the blade. The wooden grips are cut for a high grip, to drive the hand up.

Performance Center Model 60 barel geometry
The geometry of the 3″ barrel on the Performance Center Model 60 is a bit strange.

The barrel itself is slab-sided and has a touch more steel in the lug. The look of the barrel may be the most distinctive difference. Otherwise, the two models are just about the same.

A Bit of Personal History

Years ago, when a good friend took me down to the rent-a-gun indoor range so I could try out guns, one of the first serious training sessions I ever had, I fell for the Model 60. We’d taken his girlfriend, too, in an attempt to convince her that guns weren’t scary. I chose a Beretta 92FS, he rented a 1911, and we got the Model 60 for her.

Smith & Wesson Model 60 rear sight
The rear sight is smaller than most target sights but is still easily adjustable and decently fast.

I’m not sure the decision was meant to be sexist, though it was clearly gendered. The Model 60 had a full grip, but it fit her hand well. And he thought she’d do well to begin with a .38, and a revolver, for the obvious reasons.

She may have fired ten rounds through the gun before she’d had enough. After running through all of my 9mm, I shot the rest of her box of .38s.

S&W Model 60 hammer
The Model 60’s hammer rides way back when cocked. There’s a trigger bar, too, beneath that channel that acts as a safety so it is safe to carry with the hammer down on a live round.

I’d struggled to get control of the 92. I was abysmal with the 1911. But the Model 60… all I had to do was look at the target and I’d hit it with a level of accuracy that made me feel accomplished.

Smith & Wesson Model 60 trigger
When the hammer is cocked, the trigger rides almost all the way to the frame. The pull is perfect—just over three pounds in single-action.

I’m bigger than average, so I wasn’t expecting to like the small Smith. Yet it ran flawlessly for me. Even with almost no instruction, and no actual handgun skills, I was capable with this revolver.

Capacity, though, being what it is, won the day. I should have bought a Model 60 then, but I didn’t. It would be almost 15 years before I bought my first—a gun I later sold when I needed some cash. This one is my second, and maybe my last.

Final thoughts

Smith & Wesson Model 60 cylinder release
The cylinder release is on the left side of the gun and easy to reach with the thumb of your shooting hand—as long as you’re right-handed.

The S&W Model 60 is not easy to find. Smith is still making them. This may be changing as, at the time of writing, gun sales have slowed to a crawl and the shelves of most dealers are, once again, filling up.

Smith & Wesson Model 60 revolver in a Bianchi 5BHL holster
The Bianchi 5BHL is a solid holster and provides good thumb strap retention for OWB carry.

The Performance Center version lists for $879. Street prices are pretty close.

As far as revolvers go, S & W’s production models have set the bar really high. They’ve kept this quality going for generations. And designs like this one, as simple as it is, are part of the success story of the brand.

The Model 60 J-Frames revolver in OWB holster
The S&W Model 60 is large enough to carry as an OWB, which is a stretch for many J-Frames.

This gun is more than 50 years old. From the short snub-nosed versions to a 5″ barreled version that was available 15 years ago, the Model 60 is the type of gun any American manufacturer would love to have in its catalog.

 

 

 

 

 

David Higginbotham is a writer and editor who specializes in everyday carry. David is a former backcountry guide in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Boundary Waters Canoe Area who was a college professor for 20 years. He ultimately left behind the academy for a more practical profession in the firearms industry and was (among other editorial positions) the Managing Editor for a nascent Mag Life blog. In that Higginbotham helped establish The Maglife's tone and secure its early success. Though he went on to an even more practical firearms industry profession still, he continues to contribute articles and op-eds as time and life allow.

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