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Smith & Wesson model 63 kit gun: sleek, balanced, and sturdy without being heavy, S&W's J-Frame .22 LR Model 63 is the quintessential trail gun.

Not so long ago, most firearms were viewed not as personal-protection tools, but as self-preservation tools. Feeding oneself and one's family was an omnipresent concern, much more tangible than the abstract possibility of a terrorist attack on the local school. Supplementing the stewpot with a tasty squirrel or cottontail and the family budget with a winter's take of fur was both desirable and possible, and as a result, many sidearms of the era were designed as "trail guns" or "kit guns."

A rifle offered more precision, but a handgun was far more manageable when snowshoeing down a trapline and provided adequate accuracy when administering a coup degrace. None were better than Smith & Wesson's line of Kit Guns that culminated with the superb little .22 rimfire Model 63.

Although earlier Kit Guns (the Model 34 and its cousins) were built on the petite I-Frame, the Model 63 was made on the small J-Frame, offered six-shot capacity in its fluted cylinder, and featured nice adjustable sights on its 4.0-inch barrel. The barrel was pinned into the frame until 1982, when the little revolver was given the Model 63-1 designation. A serrated top rib reduced glare, and a 0.125-inch-wide red-ramp front sight paired with a blackened stainless rear to offer a clear sight picture under a variety of conditions.

Checkered Magna grips paired nicely with a smooth, square-butt backstrap, offering a comfortable, shootable grip with or without heavy winter gloves.

As the years became decades, the Model 63 experienced frequent "improvements." Among them are rubber grips, round-butt frames, eight-shot cylinders (on some variations), and lightweight aluminum and titanium alloy frames and cylinders. I've handled many of these later versions, and while they are lovely, lightweight rimfire revolvers, I wouldn't trade my stainless-steel, pinned-barrel version for any of them.

Mechanicals

This early Model 63 has most of the features that S&W purists prefer: a pinned barrel, recessed cylinder chambers (of course, it's a rimfire, so that goes without saying), and a beautifully fitted three-screw steel frame. A non-shrouded ejector rod keeps the design slim. A very crisp, clean, light DA/SA trigger complements the adjustable sights and helps shooters achieve stewpot-filling accuracy.

To load, press the cylinder latch located on the left side of the frame; rotate the cylinder out; fill the chambers with .22 Short, Long, or Long Rifle cartridges; and press the cylinder back into place. Fire by simply squeezing the trigger rearward through its long, double-action cycle, which will rotate the cylinder to a fresh chamber, lock it in place, and then drop the hammer to fire.

For more precision, ear the hammer rearward to cock it manually and then squeeze the delightfully crisp trigger single-action style.

To unload, press the cylinder latch and swing the cylinder back out, point the muzzle skyward, and tap the end of the ejector rod. The ejector will pop the empty cases out of the chambers.

Provenance

More than 10 years ago, I took my fine little Model 63 in trade, and before the day was out it had become (and remains) my favorite rimfire sidearm. Other than the fact that it was built in 1981 I know nothing of the revolver's history before I obtained it, but since that fortuitous trade I've carried it around much of the West while camping, hiking, and hunting. It's taken a big jackrabbit at 54 yards and was the first handgun that at least two of my children ever fired.

Candidly, I found it adequately but not inspiringly accurate when I first began shooting it. After a good cleaning it offered a bit more precision.

Rangetime

With the Model 63 freshly cleaned and prepped and a stockpile of .22 LR ammo intentionally picked to provide a broad cross-section of projectile types, weights, and velocities, I repaired to my favorite shooting spot and began accuracy testing. Because of its intended purpose as a trail gun, I opted to shoot at 15 yards, which is about as far as I'd want to take an offhand head shot on a cottontail or squirrel for the pot and is certainly as far as one would ever need to shoot while running a trapline.

Resting over a sandbag, I fired a series of three, five-shot groups for average with each type of ammunition. As I'd found in the past, the little revolver isn't particularly ammunition sensitive. All six loads averaged between 1.24 and 2.00 inches, and point of impact didn't shift appreciably.

Predictably, the little sixshooter functioned smoothly and with perfect reliability throughout my testing. Well over a decade of use has bred familiarity, but I'm still impressed at how well the Model 63 balances, points, and handles. Since it's becoming something of a classic, I'm beginning to be a bit more protective of it, opting to leave it home in the safe if weather is excessively wet or dusty, but in reality, I think I still trust it more than any other rimfire handgun.

Caption: Built In about 1981 on the small J-Frame, the author's vintage sixshot Smith & Wesson .22 LR Model 63 has an adjustable rear sight, a 4.0-inch pinned barrel, and checkered Magna grips.

Caption: The Model 63's blackened stainless-steel adjustable rear sight and redramp front sight offer a clear, distinct sight picture and the ability to sight-in with whatever type of .22 ammo best suits your task.
S&W MODEL 63 KIT GUN ACCURACY & VELOCITY

                                                     15-YD.
                             VEL.    E.S.    S.D.     ACC.
AMMUNITION                   (FPS)   (FPS)   (FPS)   (IN.)

                             .22 Long Rifle

Winchester 26-gr. Tin HP     1153     85      25      1.66
CCI Stinger 32-gr. HP        1067     88      31      2.00
Remington CBee22 33-gr. HP    555     95      38      1.24
American Eagle 38-gr. HP      988     82      28      2.00
Browning BPR 40-gr. HP        958    108      33      1.27
Winchester 40-gr. RN          965     50      18      1.43

NOTES: Accuracy is the average of three, five-shot groups fired from
a sandbag benchrest. Velocity is the average of 15 rounds measured 10
feet from the gun's muzzle.

MODEL 63 KIT GUN

MANUFACTURER        Smith & Wesson
TYPE                Double-action revolver
CALIBER             .22 Long Rifle
CYLINDER CAPACITY   6 rounds
BARREL              4.0 in.
OVERALL LENGTH      10.7 in.
WEIGHT, EMPTY       24 oz.
STOCKS              Checkered S&W Magna grips
FINISH              Satin stainless
SIGHTS              Adjustable rear, red-ramp front
TRIGGER             3.63-lb. pull (as tested)
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Title Annotation:SHOOTER'S GALLERY: THE SHOOTIST
Author:Von Benedikt, Joseph
Publication:Shooting Times
Article Type:Product/service evaluation
Date:May 1, 2017
Words:1049
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