12 January 2024

Smith and Wesson's Model 17 - A Classical Masterpiece

Recently, I purchased a Smith and Wesson Model 17 Masterpiece. I've been considering building a target revolver for a while now. As I was going over which revolver I would want to build out, I remembered that .22 LR would be much cheaper than the centerfire options. I was originally going between a Smith and Wesson N-frame with a 6 1/2 inch barrel and the Ruger Blackhawk with a 5 1/2 inch barrel for the centerfire options. There isn't any factory made cartridge cheaper than .22 LR so having a good shooting pistol in .22 only made sense given what's coming up in my life these days. 

If you aren't familiar with it, the Model 17 is part of Smith and Wesson's Classic line up. The series is intended to fill the desire for vintage models from days gone by. The Model 17 fits in line with others such as the Model 19, 25, 27, 29, and 57. There are others but that covers the bulk. 

The Model 17 would get it's start in 1947 as the K-22 target model revolver for the post-war era. Variations, along with rolling improvements, would be made until the late 1990's. S&W reintroduced the pistol in 2009 under the Classic lineup. The current models are not perfect replicas of the original K-22. There are a number of changes that have been made since then making the most recent iteration a dash 9, or 17-9 if you will. I don't know all the changes between the original and current production but I do know there are a few I can identify. The easy ones include the barrel is not pinned, the firing pin is not part of the hammer, the clockwork includes a transfer bar safety system and finally, the hammer and frame have the despised ILS. Yuck.

The ILS has other less flattering names.

Built on the K-frame and given a 6 inch barrel, the medium sized but heavy revolver will make a fine starting point for what I have planned. 


Why the Model 17? Several reasons but first, let's talk about Elmer Keith. 

In his 1955 book Sixguns, Mr. Keith has a section dedicated to selecting a pistol. His suggestion is to start with a .22 LR and work your way up to a bigger caliber. He lists several .22 pistols that were well liked including the K-22 and the High Standard Sentinel. While I've been shooting the bigger calibers for years, I'm not quite ready to step up to Mr. Keith's beloved .44 Magnum. He suggested starting smaller for recoil and cost purposes and I find the .44s to be a rather expensive option.

Ammunition costs were the primary factor in choosing the Model 17. The tiny .22 LR is by far the cheapest cartridge to purchase. I purchased a 2000 round case of Aguila Standard Velocity for 6 and a half cents per round recently, knowing I'd be getting this revolver. The best I can reload .38 Special for is around 17 cents per round and those are junk loads for subsonic plinking for the suppressed Marlin 1894 CST. I figure, once I learn how to cast my own bullets, I can do better but I haven't gotten there yet, so .22 LR it is. 

Build Quality

I don't know much about revolvers but everything looks great. The bluing is so nicely polished and the only issues were the normal drag lines on the cylinder from the test firing. I can confirm they test fired it as the barrel had powder residue in it. 

The wood grips matched up nicely to the metal and are somewhat comfortable. I'm looking for some other K-frame grips to try out to see if I can get a better match to my larger hands though I do see where the wood isn't flush with the front of the grip frame. They have just a little overhang. I know I'm nitpicking here.

The double action trigger pull is smooth. I can't tell you the pull weight of the double action movement but the single action movement is around 5 pounds. The trigger gauge I borrowed only went to 8 pounds. I can say for sure it's much better than the pull on the High Standard Sentinel I have which is the only other DA/SA rimfire pistol I have. I did later get to test the double action pull and found around 10.5 pounds. 

I checked the chamber throats for uniformity and found that a .224 pin gauge will pass through all six throats but a .225 gauge will not. I would call that uniform. There doesn't appear to be any forward or backward cylinder movement.

The crane has an elegant snap and is tight when closed. Same goes for the cylinder stop. The extractor rod is smooth and returns with no issues.

The side plate matches nicely though the seams are visible.  Finally, it doesn't rattle which some guns do.

All in all, the whole affair feels solid and very well made. The heft of 40 oz worth of blued steel and wood points nicely and balances just as well. It has a little forward weight which I'm liking. 

How does it shoot?

The Patridge style front sight and adjustable, notch-style rear sight are nice. I did a casual test firing the week I got the gun and roughly adjusted the rear notch sight to a point where I could reliably hit the 6 inch steel gong I have hung on a pine tree. The distance was around 25 yards and I had to add some elevation to the front sight as the rounds were hitting low. That 150 rounds was a good start but it's not very telling of the accuracy potential of this lovely Masterpiece. I went back for a more considerable range day.

While I don't have a proper bench or something like a Ransom rest to shoot from, I do have a table and a Caldwell bag. I tried several different loadings from around 15 yards. What I had are CCI Standard Velocity 40gr, CCI Mini Mags 40 gr, CCI Quiet-22 Semi-Auto 45 gr (PN - 975CC), CCI Stingers, Aguila Standard Velocity 40 gr, Aguila Super Colibri 20 gr, Winchester bulk box 36 gr HP, Eley Target, Remington Golden Bullets, Remington's C-Bee's and finally some Federal bulk box 36 gr. All groups are six shots for practical reasons. Let's look at the targets starting at 20 yards.

First are the CCI Standard and CCI Mini Mag (left and right). The Standards produces a good group at 20 yards. Both groups are around 4 to 5 inches below point of aim. That is a rear sight adjustment issue. I didn't have a small enough screw driver. 

Next are the CCI Stingers. I wrongly labeled the target as Velocitors but they are Stingers. Pretty good group at 20 yards. I was surprised by that. They could make for a great hunting load once I have the front sight shortened.

The Aguila Standard Velocity rounds did okay. Here's that target.

Next up are is the Winchester white box 36 gr HP then the Remington Golden Bullet 36 grain. The Federal load and then the Remington Eley target. 

The Federal load and then the Remington Eley target are next from left to right. 


I looked at the better groups and reshot those at 10 yards. Let's look at the Remington Eley and CCI Stinger loads at 10 yards.

After testing at 10 yards. I moved the target to 7 yards to test the low power loads. The Aguila Super Colibri, Remington C-Bee and CCI Quiet-22 Semi Auto are all gallery style, reduced power loads. Most of the groups weren't great and I had trouble with the targets showing quality holes as I had started reusing Shoot-N-C stickers. However, the CCI Quiet-22 Semi Auto load was impressive. Let's look at that target. 


CCI Quiet-22 SA at 7 yards.

Interestingly, the CCI Quiet-22 Semi Auto 45 grain load produces the best groups.  I ended up shooting another set of groups with the Quiets at 20 yards and they did well. I will note that those loads also did the best in another revolver I have, the High Standard Sentinel. I need to find a few more boxes of those to keep around.

I will add that I did make an adjustment to the rear notch sight to move the groups from the left to the center. Targets showing left side hits are before the adjustment with the centered groups after the adjustment.

Future Changes

I don't see a need to make changes at this time. I think the revolver is pretty great right out of the box. I'm choosing the CCI Standard velocity load since that's what I use for most of my plinking and target guns. Once I get the front sight sorted, I'd like to look at getting a better set of grips that fit my hand better. I've heard the Model 19 grips are good and being it's also a K-frame, they should match up.

I did inquire with Smith and Wesson about their Master Revolver Action Package. I don't know if the Model 17 Masterpiece is slicked up already but it would be interesting to know if its already been done, not that it seems to need it. They haven't gotten back to me.

I did pick up a custom made leather holster so I will take to carrying it with me more often to get an idea of how it carries. 

I'm also toying with deleted the ILS and plugging the hole with a kit available. The bluing likely wouldn't match but I suppose it's better than a gapping hole.

Other Uses

The Model 17 would make for a great hunting companion. Other than as a target revolver, I like the idea of carrying this along side a .30-30 rifle. Something that can be carried to take squirrel or rabbit while hunting for deer. It think it was Elmer Keith that said target guns make for good hunting guns.

One could argue the Model 17 would make a good teaching pistol but it's a bit large for younger kids hands. 

Some folks have suggested to me as using this revolver for Bullseye competition and I think that would be very interesting. It might be something I should look into. 

Final Thoughts

This Smith and Wesson Model 17 is definitely scratching the itch for a classic revolver but it's absolutely making me ask more questions like what would the Model 27 or the Model 57 be like. I won't be running out to buy something like a new N-frame any time soon but the questions are still there. The centerfire target revolver concept is still on my list and eventually it will occur but this is the starting point.

I'm enjoying the revolver very much and can't wait to get it fully dialed in. I would also like to note that, oddly enough, I forgot that the rear sights are adjustable for this thing called elevation. All you need is a flathead screw driver and you can magically adjust without need to file down the front sight. I don't know how that slipped my mind but it sure did. Glad I remembered before taking a file to this beauty. Having remembered this, I am even more excited about the Model 17 and what I'll be able to do with it.

Update 19 JAN: I was able to get out to the farm and get back to chores. While waiting for a brush pile to burn down, I setup a target and finished zeroing the right sight for the Aguila Standard Velocity rounds. I set up a target at 25 yards. Here is the last groups I shot for the day.

Update 17 FEB: Ghost edit for double action trigger gauge. 

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