S&W Model 36 Chief's Special

Smith and Wesson Model 36

Classic J Frame Revolver


Manufacturer Smith and Wesson
Model 36
Caliber .38 S&W Special +p
Capacity 5
Barrel Length 1.875 ( 3" tested )
Front Sight Ramped Post
Rear Sight Fixed Notch
Grip Wood Crimson Trace Tested
Frame "J" - Small
Material Carbon Steel
Weight Empty 19.5 oz ( 23.5 as tested * )
25.8 loaded
Finish Blue
Action Double/Single
MFG SKU 150184
Trigger Pull DA 15lb 4 oz
Trigger Pull SA 3lb 2oz
* Includes Crimson Trace  


This is not going to be an "unbiased" review. I have owned and loved at least a dozen of these little .38s since about 1965. It has always been my favorite carry gun and still is at the top of my list but with the advent of several new pieces, I am beginning to change my mind about that. - But that is a different story.

These things have always been called "Belly Guns". That means, depending on who you ask, one or the other of two things:

1)  They are small enough to be easily hidden inside your pants waist band and light enough they will not slip or fall out even without a holster.

2)  They are so inaccurate that the only thing they are good for is pushing them into some ones belly and pulling the trigger.


I agree whole heartedly with the first definition.

I plan to disabuse you of any notion that the second description is true.

The gun is small. Even with the Crimson Trace grips in place it is only 8.85 inches from the top of the front sight to the butt of the Crimson Trace grip. It is only one and one third inch wide across the cylinder. It is very easy to hide. You can even slip it into a pocket, although that is not a good idea if you might need it in a hurry.

The single action trigger pull is very nice and crisp. No slack, no movement, breaks like glass. After breaking there is about .020" over travel. That is not enough over travel for me to detect by feel, I can only detected it by sight. At only three pounds, some might find it too light. I find it delightful.

The thing is a high quality machine. Its parts fit tightly and operate smoothly. There is no "grating" of moving parts. The polish and bluing are excellent.

Accuracy is excellent.

These guns get a bad rap on accuracy. They are not inaccurate, they just make it easier to miss than a six inch model. The reason for this is that a sighting error of one one hundredth of an inch with a two inch barrel will move the point of impact by three times as much as the same error in a six inch model.

Sighting errors for selected Smith and Wesson Revolvers

Revolver Barrel Length Sight Radius Error Inches*
M-36 1.875" 3.25" 9.23"
M-36 3" 4.5" 6.67"
M-19 4" 5.75" 5.22"
M-686 5.5" 6.75" 4.44"
M19 6" ( 5.75 ) 7.25" 4.14"
M-19** 8.375 9.88 3.03

*The error ( in inches ) caused by a misalignment in the sight picture of 0.01"
The "error inches" is the distance in inches the point of impact will move at 25 yards due to the misalignment of 0.01".

**No longer available.

What can be expected of these things"

Five shots at 15 yards using the Crimson Trace laser sight.

The load was:

Bullet:  Lee 358-158-SWC
Primer:   CCI 300
Powder: Unique
Charge:  5.0 gr*
Velocity: 900 FPS
Start at 4.5 gr.
 Smith and Wesson M-36
Ten shots at 25 yards using the factory sights.

The load was:

Bullet:  Lee 358-158-SWC
Primer:   CCI 300
Powder: Unique
Charge:  5.0 gr*
Velocity: 900 FPS
Start at 4.5 gr.
Smityh and Wesson M-36

More accuracy tests 10 shots at 25 yards
Using the factory sights (1)
Winchester 130 grain FMJ
range and target loads
5" to 6"
Sellier and Bellot 148 grain wadcutters  4" to 5" (2)


(1) I do not use the laser at 25 yards because I find it difficult to impossible to see in full daylight. It works fine at 15 yards but I can't see it reliably at 25 yards. 

(2) To put this in perspective, those same wad cutters group in .8 to 1.0 inches from my Thompson contender with scope and about 2.5" to 3" from a 6" Model 19. ( at 25 yards )





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