Favorite Handguns: S&W Model 64/65 w/3” Barrel

I am not alone in being extremely fond of these stainless steel 3” K-Frame revolvers.  The Model 64 is chambered for .38 Special and the near-identical 65 for the .357 Magnum.  Before law enforcement’s exodus to the autoloader, 3” K-Frame S&W’s were popular with more than a few agencies including the FBI and NYPD.

But why is this so?  Why were these revolvers so popular and why has that lasted even to the present?  These days it seems that any of the K-Frame .38’s or .357’s with 3” barrels commands a premium price. There have to be reasons for this. Let me offer mine.

For me, size and weight are right. Not the largest nor smallest, lightest or heaviest in caliber, they are in that area in where either a service-sized revolver or one for concealed carry without extraordinary effort can be had.  At approximately 2-lbs depending upon grips and ammunition, they are easily carried via a proper gun belt and holster but heavy enough for most to manage well with either “hot” 38’s or mid-power magnums.  Those preferring to use full-power .357’s in the 3” Model 65 will definitely have more “kick” to handle, but I’ve seen it done time and time again by dedicated, serious shooters.


This Model 64-3 is wearing S&W factory checkered stocks and is still a very capable revolver for fun, informal target work or the serious business of self-defense.  More than a few shooters opine that these are about as easy to group with as revolvers with 4” barrels but nearly as easy to hide as the snub K-Frames.  I agree but note that some report the 2” version is more comfortable if carried with an IWB holster in “appendix carry”, i.e.: at about the 1 o’clock position. This revolver is only an inch shorter than my 4” HB round butt Model 64, but it somehow seems considerably smaller.

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Here is the same revolver with Eagle Secret Service stocks and a factory-bobbed DAO hammer. This is about as “snag-proof” as can be had and is still readily manageable with my preferred defense load, Remington 158-gr. LHP +P.  (They average slightly under 900 ft/sec from this Model 64’s 3” barrel.)


My Model 65-5 closely resembles the 64 but has a slightly longer cylinder for its .357 chambering. It measures 1.566” compared to the Model 64’s 1.451” cylinder length. Compare both and you should be able to see a slightly longer forcing cone on the Model 64.  Both cylinders mike 1.451” wide. Both of these revolvers measure 8 ¼” in total length with stocks that do not cover the back strap.

Some folks express concerns that POA might not match POI with their load of choice.  With not only this Model 64, but all of mine regardless of barrel-length have sights that are well-regulated for 158-160 grain bullets at either standard or +P ratings.  My Model 65 hits slightly high with 145 to 158-gr. full-power magnums but pretty much dead bang “on” with mid-power magnums such as Remington 125-gr. Golden Sabers, Corbon DPX or Speer 135-gr. Gold Dots.  I do not know how this could be by design since these loads didn’t exist when this revolver was made.  I have seldom shoot my Model 65 with full-power 125-gr. loads simply because I don’t use those much and I don’t care to chance possibly cracking the forcing cone on this out-of-production model.  With heavier-bulleted magnums, using a six o’ clock hold usually solves the problem at 15 yards and 25 yards.  Closer in and the slight divergence between POA and POI is negligible…with this particular revolver.  It has been my personal observation over the years that most of the time POA and POI are more than just “casually” related with S&W fixed-sight revolvers.  I would gladly take that “chance” were I to find another of these little jewels for sale.

A major advantage of the 3” Model 64’s and 65’s over their 2 and 2 ½” bbl K-Frame’s is that they offer a full-length ejector rod.  This makes ejection significantly easier than with revolvers sporting barrels only a half-inch shorter.

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Also a K-Frame, this Model 66 .357 Magnum has a 2 ½” barrel.  Compare its ejector rod to that of the 3” 64 or 65. It is very noticeably shorter and requires very brisk operation to fully eject fired cases.

I have seen precise shooting done with both the 3” Model 64 and 65. Certainly, .38 Special ammunition can be fired in the Model 65 and many shooters prefer the magnum for that very reason.  They like the option of being able to handle two calibers in the same handgun.  This has been done for decades but if you opt to do so, make very sure that the cylinder charge holes are thoroughly cleaned after each shooting with .38 Special. If this is not done, chambering .357’s will eventually become impossible or extraction of the fired magnum cases very difficult.

Either of these Models can provide fun at the range, security at home and protection carried on one’s person. I have found them equally “at home” carried concealed in urban “jungles” or when knocking about in the woods.  If being used strictly for home defense, like anthrax they can lay dormant for long periods but still provide a deadly “surprise” … if required.

In my opinion, either the Model 64 or 65 with 3” barrels are among the most useful and readily shootable revolvers ever made and as I stated in the first sentence, I am far from alone in that belief.


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