I have just one Smith and Wesson. Generally speaking, S&W made very reliable revolvers, and didn’t dive so deeply into semi-automatics as rivals such as Colt and High Standard did. Colt started with John Moses Browning – High Standard started with Lucius Diem’s version of the Colt Woodsman. Smith and Wesson began automatics with a knock-off of the Clement in 1913, then developed a proprietary cartridge for it – the 35 Smith and Wesson. Both the pistol and the cartridge kind of flopped.
After the Gun Control Act of 1968, most of the small quality handguns – like the Walther PPK – were banned from US import. Smith and Wesson copied a 1908 Belgian pistol – the Pieper Bayard – that put the recoil spring above the barrel, and used it as the basis for their model 61. I wanted a model 61 – it had developed a reputation. It was despised by gunsmiths, a gun that, no matter what you did to it, jammed and failed to extract. I think the recoil spring above the barrel was the only thing that kept it from stove-pipe jams. The typical recommendation was “Buy a decent gun.” I wanted one to work on.
The model 61 came out in 1970. As you can see, it looked like the Bayard – I can get exactly one finger circling the grip – which makes accurate shooting kind of moot. If you can’t hold a pistol solidly, you aren’t likely to put your shots in the X-ring. Still, I wanted the Smith for practice in gun repair, not target shooting.
In 1973, sales ended and the little Smith and Wesson Escorts went off the market. In that brief span, the model 61 went from 61, to 61-1, to 61-2, to 61-3. It’s not like the folks at Smith and Wesson weren’t actively trying to correct the little gun’s faults.
So eventually, 40 years after production ended, I got my very own, practically new, Model 61 – specifically a model 61-3. I tried a box of Winchester Wildcats. It jammed. I went to Remingtons. It jammed. I filled it up with Aguila SSS shells. It just kept shooting. I never did take the little gun apart. It’s still shooting Aguila cartridges like it was made for them. Sometimes feeding is every bit as important as care.