A Nurse with a Gun

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Range Report: Pristine Python vs K38 Combat Masterpiece

The Standard

K38 Combat Masterpiece $179For several years my favorite six gun has been a work hardened K38 Combat masterpiece that I bought from a pawnbroker for $179. This old revolver had obviously been carried. It has quite a bit of holster wear touched up with cold bluing. The trigger is the best I have on a wheelgun though. It is smooth and light all the way to sear release with no stacking and no catches. Either this gun had a good trigger job at some time, or the parts have been polished to perfection through use or both. At any rate it is the standard I use to judge a revolver. It is an inherently accurate gun, and although it is a weathered old warhorse, it still ranks as the best handling and most accurate six gun in my safe. The only known alteration it has from stock is a Hogue Monogrip.

The Challenger

Colt Python $599The Colt Python is a legendary sixgun. Many say it is the finest six gun ever made in America. It is a handfitted gun of impeccable finish. The old-style Colt "Bank Vault" lockup, Colt's superior quality barrels, with their faster rifling twist are often cited as the Python's advantage. Colt went even farther with the Python, designing an expensive tapered-bore barrel, which is finished with Colt's mysterious "Silver Ball" treatment. In short, The Python is very much like ordering a true custom 1911 from a maker like Wilson, Brown, or one of the other top custom builders. What you're getting is a revolver on which expensive hand labor is lavished, and on which everything possible is done to insure it's the finest quality and most accurate production revolver possible. The Python never has been a moderately priced handgun. I found this pristine four inch example at a pawn shop for $599, and bought it immediately.

The Tussle

Before I talk results, let me state the purpose of this head to head test, plain and simple. The Python cost $599. The K38 cost $179. Is the Python worth 420 more dollars to ME? I chose these two because I shoot my K38 better than any other DA revolver. The Python is often heralded as an accuracy legend. Apples and oranges? A 1950s .38 special up aganst a 1990's .357 magnum? To help level the playing field both guns will be shooting .38 special. To further level the field, no wadcutters or such. I went to Wal-Mart and bought some value packs of Winchester White Box. That is what I usually use, and that is reason enough for the ammo choice. Then I headed to the range.
ResultsI shot 100 rounds through each revolver, and came up with these representative groups. A few things must be acknowledged.
The K38 is my favorite revolver. I prefer it's wide trigger, and the Hogue Monogrip fits like it was made just for me. I shoot this gun double action frequently to demonstrate that DA shooting can rival SA shooting. In my hands, this is a hard gun to beat. It fits, and I usually shoot my best with it. The Python did not fit me nearly so well. To be fair, if I installed a Monogrip, I'm sure it would. The Python's trigger pull is smooth, but not as smooth as the old K38's, and it seems to be a bit stiffer. This may or may not be attributable to the wider S&W trigger. The polish on the Python's trigger made the more narrow trigger a little better. The Accro sights on the Python gave a better sight picture than the stock K38 sights.

In function, the old K38 accepted rounds, swung the cylinder into place and ejected casings with aplomb. Nary a hitch, and smooth as silk. Again, I attribute this to the K38 being a "mature" gun with a lot of bullets down the pipe. By contrast, the tightly fitted Colt would sometimes take two tries to have the cylinder lock into place. The chambers seemed to be a bit snug, and the .38spl ammo did not want to seat as easily. Likewise, the casings required a firmer push for extraction. The old K38 did not lock up as tightly as the Colt. The Colt exhibits the famous bank vault lock-up. The S&W has gotten a bit lackidasical in it's lock-up over the years. Neither gun spit lead, neither gun had any failures.

If my familiarity with my K38 and how well it fits me is factored in, as well as the newness of the Python, accuracy in my hands was essentialy the same. I had quite a few better groups of five or four shots than what is pictured with the Python. Often it would cloverleaf groups of three and four. Then I would shoot a flyer, which I could instantly call as such. I have a feeling if I placed a Monogrip on the Colt, and shot it as much as the K38, it would hold the edge in accuracy in my hands. As it is, the K38 out shot the Python.

There is no denying the Python is a fabulous gun. If these were watches, the S&W would be a Seiko, and the Python a Rolex. The Python is beautiful. It's bluing is lucious and swimming pool deep. There is not a flaw on the gun. It's beautiful.
If I am going to pull a wheelgun out of my safe to take shooting, and show a young whippersnapper what a six gun is capable of, I'm pulling out my beat up Smith & Wesson K38. If I am going to pull out a gun to show a young whippersnapper how a handfitted gun looks and feels, I'm pulling out the Python. So, back to the original question........is the Python worth $599 to me? Well, I have not taken it back (and I can under the pawn shop's return policy). I suppose it is worth $599 to me. I feel certain I will be able to get that back out of the gun if I care for it properly.

What many will want to know is which gun "won"? In my opinion, there is a clear winner. The old beat-up S&W K38 cleaned the Python's clock. In another shooter's hand though, it might have been a different story.

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Blogger Kevin said...

Put a grip fit for humans on that Python and have someone skilled give it a trigger job. No matter how nice it looks, that grip is useless as a handgun handle, and no matter what else, even a Python can have its trigger improved. Then run your test again.

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Xavier, I too favor the old K38 over all I have had experience with. I bought mine in 1952. I don't get to use it now, because of my age my hands are getting arthritic. I frequently look at it and wonder if I should sell it, so someone younger can enjoy it. My memories of firing it on the range are a treasure, as I was once a reserve officer.

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Xavier, I too own and favor the K38 combat Masterpiece over all I have had the encounters with. I have fond memories of firing it on the ranges at rapid fire and close sight firings. I don't use it now as my hands are getting arthritic, and ponder at selling it to someone that could enjoy what a great feel it has. I am in my latter years now, but have my memories. By; Bill

9:08 AM  
Blogger John said...

I inherited my father's .38 Combat Masterpiece last year. I called Smith and Wesson, gave them the serial number, and they told me it was manufactured 1950. It's in perfect condition, looks pristine, and has the original walnut grips. It truly is a work of art.

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Xavier, check my YouTube presentation of my 1950 Masterpiece (Smith and Wesson K 38 - The Prince of Revolvers!) and/or my thread on Opencarry.org forum in the "selecting a handgun" division, with the same title. I have some good pics of a pristine K 38 Combat Masterpiece on both blogs.

2:07 AM  

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