S&W Model 52-2 Range Review

| March 2, 2014 | 8 Comments

After a very long hiatus from making semi-auto pistols of nearly 20 years Smith and Wesson hit a home run with the introduction of the Model 39. It has only been a dream of mine to spend a day on the range with a S&W Model 39. Having such a burning desire for such a long time this dream seems to be turning more into a nightmare than one filled with the pleasures of a 80 degree sunny day on the range. Though I will probably never get to fulfill this dream, I hold out hope and have got very close to ?scratching this itch due to some great friendships. Enter the Model 52-2 Wadcutter Only Target Pistol.

Thank you Bill for trusting me with this beauty.






The whacky idea of a semi-auto firing .38 special wadcutter ammunition, typically meant to be fired from a revolver seemed to me to be a S&W marketing gimmick. But an offer to be loaned a S&W model 52-2 which follows the beautiful lines of a Model 39 couldn’t be passed up. Also if you think about the era in which S&W created the Model 52 in 1961 in that of a postwar America target shooting was very popular. The Army Marksmanship Unit was experimenting with a model 52-A which was a .38 special rimless cartridge. S&W captured the spirit of the moment by creating a semi-auto capable of firing a at the time a revolver only round in the .38 wadcutter, the Model 52. Which is very capable of holding it’s own in a sport at the time ruled by revolvers. This pistol was very carefully made and fitted by hand in a time when gunsmithing craftsmanship was at an all time high and mim parts were only a twinkle in someone’s eye. Within the sport of target shooting it is said these guns had to shoot a 2in group or less from 50 yards or it didn’t leave the factory.

Around about 1971 the Model 52-2 was born outfitted with improvements over it’s predecessors with features like a adjustable trigger, new and improved extractor and a serrated hammer. About all versions sported a 5in barrel, 5 shot magazine, partridge front sight and adjustable rear sight.








Accompanying me to the range were targets, .38 wadcutter reloads also graciously provided by Bill and a box of the only factory target wadcutter I could find and last but not least my trusty chronograph.


















Not considering myself to be a great target shooter, I decided to first try the reloads at 25 yards.









Right away I knew this pistol was capable of much better as the light trigger on the first shot literally scared me when it went off. Which just so happens to be the low shot outside of the other grouping. I brought the pistol down to a ready position to catch my composure and breath and started in on the last four shots. After my first string of fire I had a certitude of confidence the Model 52-2 was capable and also very forgiving.

Having built my confidence and feeling cocky I went to hang 2 more targets at the 25 yard line. I would load up both 5 shot magazines with Remington Target .38 wadcutter ammunition. The one thing that stood out to me about this string of fire is the smooth recoil and lack of smoke. The reloads seemed to be a little more snappy and divulged a darker heavier smoke.








Before firing rounds over the chronograph I wanted one last string of fire with 10 reloads?at 25 yards.








Though the recoil seemed to be snappier the groups delivered were tighter, I instantly found myself wanting to transition to the chronograph to check consistency of the reloads compared to the Remington factory.

Pistol Ammunition Velocity FPS Average Velocity FPS Extreme Spread
S&W Model 52-2 Remington Target Wadcutter 1 Shot = 749 Hi 729 44
2 Shot = 719
3 Shot = 705 Low
4 Shot = 726
5 Shot = 746
S&W Model 52-2 Reloads 2.8gr Bullseye 1 Shot = 755 755 14
2 Shot = 760 Hi
3 Shot = 759
4 Shot = 746 Low
5 Shot = 759


The chronograph confirmed my suspicions the reloads proved to be a little more consistent than the Remington Factory.

This day proved to be an exhilarating day for me, coming ever so close to?that elusive model 39 having spent a day on the range with a piece of American ingenuity bridging the gap between revolvers and semi-auto’s. The day seemd to be a very short one and quite frankly was ok with me with it being 38 degree’s and 10mph winds making it feel colder. I just could not resist getting out on the range with this American Marvel. This day would not be complete though in my mind without a 50 yard trial with Bill’s reloads. Unfortunately I had to result to a silhouette target as I had run out of bullseye targets. After all these years of enjoying this great sport and past time you would think I would bring along enough supplies. Exactly how many times can a guy run out of staples and targets before learning his lesson?








Bill again I thank you my friend for trusting me with a beautiful piece of American history. Model 52-2’s are rare and for good reason those that have them just simply keep them and pass them on from generation to generation within the family. For those of us that are tired of looking for a Model 52 which can be like finding Sasquatch. S&W has graced us with the Model 952, yet another evolution of the great Model 39 in 9mm.



















I just can’t say thank you enough Bill?for loaning me the 52-2 and Darrel for the Model 952, which I previously reviewed here?https://dayattherange.com/?p=581



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8 Comments on "S&W Model 52-2 Range Review"

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  1. Bill says:

    Excellent article! Love the pics. Love the history. A classic pistol indeed!

  2. guffaw says:

    Now you went and made me miss my 39-2 !


  3. Leon says:

    I think custom gunsmiths, Jim Clark, being one, made .38
    Special pistols before S&W.
    Clark used the Colt 1911 as a base and made a five-inch gun and a long-slide model.

    The 1969 Gil Hebard Guns catalog lists the Clark guns and says they had been made for 15 years by then. So Clark started making .38 Special autos in 1954.

  4. greg says:

    Nice article, but I think you have it backwards. S&W wanted the 39 to be the new Army gun and built it accordingly. The 52’s, on the other hand, were built by a smithie one at a time and hand lapped until Swiss watches were impressed. In short, you’re longing for a high school Chevy Nova after you got to drive a’63 Z06 rally Corvette.

  5. Ken cowan says:

    anyone know where I could buy one?

  6. Rick Bunn says:

    Great article. I just purchased a used 52-2 with BOMAR sight rib. It is super accurate, but I need to replace the recoil spring, not enough spring to reliably load and engage the extractor. Wolff is on the way! I also have my dad’s Md 39-2. Of all my 9mms, this one is my favorite. I will pair the 52-2 with my Md 41 and my 1911 .45 for bullseye when I retire in a few months.

  7. Jerry Wensloff says:

    Good article but I am confused by the comment about S&W going from the Mod 52 to the Mod 52-2. I bought and fired many years in the 70s the S&W Mod 52-1 which I still have and still shoot. The Model 52-1 differed from the Model 52 in that the lock work was redesigned to remove the double action capability, also the ability to add a frame mounted counterweight was incorporated. The 52-2 change was a new extractor. The original extractor was overly complex, expensive to make, and prone to breakage. The new extractor was a relatively simple hook tensioned by a coil spring.

  8. Steve says:

    Great Article!!!! I really enjoy shooting my S&W M52-2. I wish I could shoot as well as you did in this article. Good stuff. Thanks


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