Smith & Wesson .38/44

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Smith & Wesson .38/44
Flickr - ~Steve Z~ - S^W Pre Model 23 .38 Spl..jpg
A post-war .38/44 Outdoorsman
Place of originUnited States
Production history
ManufacturerSmith & Wesson
VariantsHeavy Duty
Model 20
Model 23
Mass40 ounces (1.1 kg)[2]
Barrel length
  • 4-inch (10 cm)[1]
  • 5-inch (13 cm)[1]
  • 6.5-inch (17 cm)[1]

Cartridge.38 Special[1]
Feed systemSix-round cylinder[1]

Smith & Wesson .38/44 identifies a series of 6 shot, double-action, Smith & Wesson N-frame revolvers chambered for the .38 Special cartridge loaded to higher pressures than were considered appropriate for earlier revolvers chambered for that cartridge. High-pressure .38/44 loadings of the .38 Special cartridge represented a transition between conventional .38 Special ammunition and the new more powerful .357 Magnum ammo. Revolvers were manufactured from 1930 to 1941, and after World War II until lower-priced .357 Magnum revolvers became widely available.


In the 1920s and 1930s, the inability of conventional police service revolver ammunition to reliably penetrate automobiles was perceived as a problem as United States law enforcement agencies encountered well organized and funded bootleggers.[1] In response, Smith & Wesson introduced the large frame .38/44 Heavy Duty in 1930. It was based on the .44 Special Smith & Wesson Triple Lock revolver and was made with a 5-inch (13 cm) barrel and fixed sights.[3][4] The following year, Smith & Wesson began production of the .38/44 Outdoorsman with a 6.5-inch (17 cm) barrel and adjustable sights.[1]

These new revolvers were chambered for a new more powerful type of .38 Special ammunition capable of firing a 158-grain (10.2 g) metal-penetrating copper-tipped lead-alloy bullet at 1,125 feet (343 m) per second.[5] In comparison, conventional .38 Special ammunition fires a 158-grain (10.2 g) bullets at 755 feet (230 m) per second.[1] It was easily capable of penetrating the automobile bodies and body armor of that era.

A 4-inch (10 cm) barrel was offered in 1935 for users willing to accept the reduced ballistic performance of a more compact firearm.[2] The media attention gathered by the .38/44 and its ammunition encouraged Smith & Wesson to develop the longer .357 Magnum cartridge in 1935. The .38/44 was an option for purchasers unwilling to pay the premium pricing of the new .357 Magnum revolvers.

The 38/44s were available with either blue or nickel finish. Production was interrupted by the second world war. Postwar production serial numbers are prefixed with the letter S.[1] After the war these N-frame revolvers were popular with veterans experimentally handloading the .38 Special at pressures up to fifty percent higher than the 15,000 pounds per square inch (1,000 atm) recommended for conventional .38 Special revolvers.[6]

In 1957, the "Heavy Duty" fixed sight version was marketed as the Smith & Wesson Model 20 and the "Outdoorsman" with adjustable sights became the Smith & Wesson Model 23.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Hacker, Rick (2014). "Smith & Wesson .38/44 Heavy Duty". American Rifleman. National Rifle Association. 162 (February): 92.
  2. ^ a b "SMITH AND WESSON'S 38-44 HEAVY DUTY". 1Aspenhill. Retrieved 26 January 2014.
  3. ^ Shideler, Dan, Is This the Greatest .38 Ever, Gun Digest, 4 August 2008
  4. ^ Sharpe, Phil, The New Smith & Wesson Heavy Duty .38, The American Rifleman, November 1931
  5. ^ Western Ammunition Handbook (3rd ed.). East Alton, Illinois: Western Cartridge Company. pp. 54–63.
  6. ^ Barr, Al; Teesdale, Jerald; Keith, Elmer; Hardaway, Ben F. (1951). Reloading Information. 2. Washington DC: National Rifle Association. pp. 71–75.