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Plinker power: S&W's classic Kit Gun is still the perfect sidearm for hunters.

Last season I rolled into deer camp to film an episode of Petersen's HUNTING TV with the entire motley PTV crew. As we prepared for the evening hunt, I noticed our editor-in-chief, Mike Schoby, strapping on a Smith & Wesson Kit Gun. I couldn't help but point out to him that I had just strapped on a Kit Gun as well. That, of course, led to a wonderful booze-fueled conversation later that evening (sans guns) about all the wonderful things you can do with a tiny.22 and a bit of Kit Gun history.

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The Kit Gun made its debut in the mid-1930s as the.22/32 Kit Gun. It was aimed at the outdoorsmen of the day, who often carried their necessities in kit bags. The revolvers often rode in the bags for which they were named, but just as many rode on the hips of hikers and ranchers and in fishermen's tackle boxes. The Kit Gun was light, compact, accurate and capable of dealing with the nuisances outdoorsmen most commonly encountered. Not surprisingly, it was wildly successful.

The first Kit Guns were built on the old S&W I-Frame until Smith began building them on the slightly larger J-Frame in about 1960. In addition to the standard.22 LR Kit Gun, Airweight and.22 Magnum variants were also available. When Smith & Wesson began numbering all its guns, the blued Kit Gun became the Model 34, the stainless variant was the 63, the Airweight became the 43, and the Magnum version was called the 51. All came with adjustable sights, wood grips and the Old World craftsmanship for which those Smith & Wesson revolvers are still known.

I don't always wear a.22 on my hip during deer season, but if I'm not wearing one, you can bet I have one in my backpack. And I can guarantee you there's a Kit Gun on my belt when I'm doing ranch chores or hunting spring turkeys or exotics when the snakes get thick. In fact, I'll bet I've shot a half dozen rattlers with mine over the last few turkey seasons.

My favorite Kit Gun is the Model 43, which has an alloy frame and a round butt. Its barrel is an odd, but handy 3(1/2) inches with a relatively trim taper. It has the standard S&W adjustable rear sight with a black serrated front. All the examples I've seen have a rich, lustrous blue finish, and all are beautifully built. As far as carry guns go, the trim, featherweight beauty is tough to beat.

The gun I carry when it's ugly out is my stainless steel Model 63. Mine has a four-inch barrel, but two - and six-inch variants were also offered. The 63's barrel is relatively trim, as are its stocks. Smith's classic adjustable rear sight and a ramp front sight with an orange insert are standard. The combination carries easy and shoots great out to as far as most folks are likely to shoot a rimfire revolver.

Kit Guns are great for plinking and target practice, but mine gets just as much use dispatching wounded game and animals I've trapped. Clients who might get upset about me shooting their animal with a rifle have no qualms about me finishing it off with the diminutive deuce-deuce. Whether I shoot said animal in the noggin or behind the shoulder matters not--those little 40-grain solids aren't going to break skull caps or ruin meat.

I've also had great luck shooting snared feral hogs with my Kit Gun. The snares are anchored on fence posts, and a big hog can do a lot of damage to those fences when it gets worked up, so I try to shoot them from a distance with my wheelgun whenever possible. I've found that a couple of bullets behind the shoulder or in the head take the steam right out of them.

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When I'm not using my Kit Gun to dispatch varmints or wounded game, it gets a heck of a workout on rocks and cow patties. Serious plinking is the best way to sharpen your shooting, so I do lots of it. When you're good enough to hit even a cantaloupe-sized rock at 100 yards, you're well on your way to becoming a serious pistolero. The sight alignment and trigger control those long-range sessions build will improve every other facet of your shooting, too.

The classic Kit Guns have come and gone, but today's Smith & Wesson line features several high-tech offerings. The 1.875-inch-barreled, 10.8-ounce 317 I wore on a lanyard around my neck in my youth is back in the lineup, as is a three-inch, fiber optic-sighted 317. The Model 63 has a three-inch barrel and fiber optic sights, and the DAO Model 43 C is a hammerless, snubnose variant. All have eight-shot cylinders.

For those who need more horsepower, the Kit Gun line also includes a pair of seven-shot.22 Magnums. The 10.8-ounce Model 351 PD has fiber optic sights, a 1.875-inch barrel, a blued finish and rosewood grips. The other magnum offering is the hammerless, snubnose Model 351 C. Either would work well on the trail.

It's a lot sexier to write about the latest bigbore buffalo gun or the perfect deer rifle, but the truth is that few folks get a whole lot of use out of their big guns. A Kit Gun, on the other hand, is something you can shoot all the time. Ammo is cheap, recoil nonexistent, and the fun factor is off the charts. All that shooting will make you a better marksman, too. I guess that's why the Kit Gun is still so damned popular after all these years.
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Title Annotation:GUNS & LOADS
Author:Rodriguez, Greg
Publication:Petersen's Hunting
Date:Sep 1, 2011
Words:951
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