Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Smith & Wesson 325 Thunder Ranch


The Smith & Wesson 325 Thunder Ranch is a collaboration between a firearm company and a firearm instructor, Clint Smith. Clint possesses decades of experience and teaches at his own facility Thunder Ranch in Oregon. The result is a wheel gun assembled by the Performance Center to fill the role of a modern defensive revolver. The large N frame uses a Scandium alloy to reduce the overall weight to less than 31 ounces unloaded. This makes for a big bore handgun that can be carried all day with less effort than other auto-loaders chambered in .45 ACP. The cylinder and barrel are both stainless steel. The barrel is a two piece design and the factory can set the barrel to cylinder gap to improve performance. 

The moon clips load and extract incredibly fast.

The barrel shroud is where this design really gets interesting. Clint believes a self defense weapons requires a detachable white light, so a removable picatinny rail was included. A ball detent system replaces the traditional locking bolt. This allows the ejector rod to be a bit shorter to clear the weapon light. The front sight is a gold bead on an interchangeable blade system should you desire to switch sights. The hammer and trigger are also forged rather than current production metal injection molding for enhanced longevity. The Performance Center completes an action job with a great trigger out of the box. All these features combine to create a quality revolver for those that still prefer a wheel gun over auto-loading options. 


Master-Tac holster and single moon clip carrier.
North Mountain moon clip holder (long posts).

A quality revolver requires a quality holster and carrier for spare ammunition. For range and competition use, I prefer outside the waistband holsters made of kydex. Master-Tac Holsters produces great gear for competition or carry. Bill is always polite and I typically have the products at my door in less than seven business days. The moon clip carrier with short posts fits the .45 ACP round perfectly. I will order a couple more over the double stack design. The North Mountain long post (made for .38/.357 rounds) worked in a pickle, but I think the short post would be easier to manipulate. 


Shooting the S&W 325 is a bit challenging due to the lighter weight of the gun. Other than an Colt Single Action Army, I have very little trigger time with .4xx caliber revolvers. I have a bit more experience with auto-loaders in this caliber and recognize the difference in full power ammunition and lighter loads for competition. I was curious to see if this translated in the wheel gun, so I tested a few different rounds at different power factors. Below is a table outlining the different ammunition that was tested in the revolver. 

I am still looking for two lighter factory loading; a 158 PF for IDPA and a 168 PF for USPSA.

Although the 230 grain Federal is reported to be loaded to a higher velocity, the Freedom 230 grain actually produced the most felt recoil. The Freedom 200 grain was definitely the softest shooting round I tried. I largely shoot minor power rounds (.38 Specials, .380 ACPs, and 9mms), so the recoil of a major power factor rounds is a bit stiffer than expected. Nothing produced painful recoil, but you can definitely tell you are shooting major. Short but dedicated range sessions with regular dry fire practice are my recommendation.

Shooting Impressions

Testing accuracy with a handgun is largely based on the shooter's ability. I've only been shooting revolvers with regularity for about two years now but I consider myself, an average shooter. I regularly shoot the Hardwired Tactical Shooting Revolver Super Test twice each session with all full size guns. A passing score is a 162/180. The drill is straightforward as follows:
  • 6 rounds in 12 seconds from 15 yards.
  • 6 rounds in 8 seconds from 10 yards.
  • 6 rounds in 4 seconds from 5 yards. 

My first attempt after three quick warm-up groups. 
Before running the drill, I shot one moon clip of each of the three rounds to see which round shot closest point of aim to point of impact. The Freedom 174 PF was pretty much dead on, so I grabbed three moons. I failed with a 150/180. I was trying to push to ensure I made the time limit but tracking the front sight was a difficult. I even had a miss. 
After working target transitions and shooting a few groups at 25 yards, I attempted the Super Test again. I was closer to passing the second time but only shot a 161/180. Overall, the grouping is a bit tighter even though I threw a significant portion of the shots outside the black. I was rushing at the five yard line trying to make it under the four second limit.

So what is it for?


I should mention that this is not my revolver. It is on loan from a family member who also enjoys revolvers. This is his favorite handgun, and it serves the role of nightstand gun. His theory? The gun is manageable one handed, sports a weapon light, and fires a proven round operating at a low pressure. It is a great home defense weapon if you don't want something with a stock. The 325 has also served as a woods gun on day hikes when he visits the property. I think a day with a steel revolver would make me appreciate the Scandium frame a bit more. 


The Smith & Wesson 325 Thunder Ranch is loaded with features designed to create the ideal defensive revolver. After a day on the range, I'm not sure that the light weight is a benefit for a gun chambered in .45ACP unless serving as a primary carry. For my purposes, a S&W 625, the steel cousin of this revolver, is a better option. The added weight soaks up a bit of recoil on the range or in competition but the reloads should be faster than a speed loader.

I mentioned before that this is the first revolver chambered in .45 ACP that I have tested. If I were to carry this out and about, I would definitely consider a leather holster. Carrying inside the waistband might be a bit challenging with the four inch barrel and large cylinder, but it could be done. The 325 is a winner if you want a lightweight carry revolver that shoots a the same round as a 1911.

As always, if you have any suggestions for future posts or would like to share your experience on the current topic please post below!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Stocks or Grips for the Double Action Revolver

Revolvers and auto-loading pistols are different in more than a few respects. Many would argue that pistols are easier to customize. When it comes to aftermarket controls, sights, and magazine base-plates, this is absolutely true. 

The revolver does have one particular advantage over it's mag-fed kin, the ability to accept a myriad of differently sized and shaped stocks. Need a small slim profiled stock for concealed carry? Boot grips. Need a large comfortable grip for shooting a match all day? Target grips. Need a recessed and contoured grip for fighting? Combat grips. These options exist and come in all shapes and sizes.

In this post, I am comparing stocks on a few Smith & Wesson revolvers. S&Ws have two different frame shapes: the older square butt and the newer round butt. As long as the stocks are cut for that shape and are sized for the correct small, medium, or large frame, they are interchangeable. While materials vary, they are mostly to be wood, rubber, or G10. Ivory is nice but way out of my price range.

Wood vs. Rubber


Wood was the predominant material for revolver stocks until rubber grips were introduced. In my opinion, wood stocks have a classic look, especially on a blued handgun. The K-22 is a square butt with stocks designed for single action shooting rather than double action. Unfortunately, I don't find them to be particularly comfortable when shooting. Since the butt is square, many stocks have sharp corners which make concealing those with this frame type challenging. 

The Ahrends stocks on the Model 66 (far left) are a bit more comfortable because they are designed for double action shooting. The round frame rests naturally against the palm. This shape fills the hand a bit more and doesn't move as much under recoil. The round frame also conceals better because of the rounded edges.

Rubber became an option for revolvers just as the revolver began loosing ground to the auto-loading pistol. Rubber is cheaper to produce and many manufactures offer these over the more expensive wood stocks. In addition to the lower cost, rubber is often more comfortable because of the "squishy" nature. This material also absorbs some of the recoil and cushions the impact on the hand.

I honestly prefer rubber grips due to the comfort in shooting for extended range trips or all day competition. The rubber is tacky enough that it kind of sticks to your hand which is assists in maintaining a solid grip. On the other hand, this sticky characteristic can be a curse if you are trying to conceal the revolver under clothing. The fabric clings to the grips and can make it obvious you are carrying.

Wood vs. G10

Wood stocks have some advantages and disadvantages. In my opinion, wood stocks really bring out the best in revolvers. The smooth sides don't hang up on clothing and they are comfortable to shoot on shorter trips to the range. However, they are susceptible to changes weather and can crack if dropped. So is there an option that is less affected by weather, feels similar to wood, and is visually appealing? Perhaps.

G10 is a glass based epoxy resin laminate. To over simplify, this material is basically multiple layers of resin compressed into a tough, lightweight package. The best part is that G10 is nearly impervious to moisture and temperature. Unlike wood. It can also be manipulated easier, often with hand tools, but does not require refinishing like wood.

In hand, G10 feels very similar to wood. Companies such as VZ Grips make grips for both square and round butt Smith & Wesson's in both a smooth or a rough texture. I prefer the smooth over the rough texture but a little sanding can take some of the bite out. I wish VZ made a finger-less grip for round butt Smith's, but that feature is not offered at this time. If this was an option, I might prefer G10 grips to Wood stocks on my round butt S&W revolvers.

 G10 vs. Rubber

The final comparison I'd like to make is G10 vs. Rubber. If you will be running your revolver regularly, I believe that these are the best options on the market. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate wood stocks on wheel guns. This material is both functional and aesthetically pleasing; however, modern materials are more durable for regular or hard use. Wood may best serve on presentation or collection pieces. 

G10 is nearly impervious to adverse conditions. Moisture from rain or sweat should not affect the grips at all. If the revolver is dropped the stocks have less of a chance to shatter or chip and are easily replaced at a reasonable price. Also don't forget that clothing catches less on these grips for carry. These stocks may be a great option for concealed carry.

Rubber if also a great choice. My favorite aspect of rubber stocks is the comfort provided in prolonged shooting heavier rounds. It has some resistance to heat and moisture. Prolonged exposure to the elements might eventually wear on rubber grips, but the material is comparatively inexpensive and can be replaced for significantly less than wood or G10. For a revolver you plan to open carry or for duty use, rubber is a great choice.


At this point, I've done a lot of shooting with each stock which has formed my own opinions. Here is what I determined; I like all three materials as long as they are finger-less. I hate finger grooves because they just don't fit my hand correctly.

Each material has strengths and weaknesses but all make for quality stocks/grip on revolvers. Once I understood this factor, I began to decide what role each material would best serve. Presentation? Wood. Carry? Rubber or G10. Competition? Rubber, G10, or WoodThese are just my preferences. At the end of the day it is totally up to you. 

As always, if you have any suggestions for future posts or would like to share your experience on the current topic please post below!