Calibration: OCT 30, 2022/S&W 642

The last time I fired this revolver was less than a week following the 2020 Presidential Election; nearly 2 years ago. As this is my primary EDC/home security tool, I wanted to a) assess my current aptitude/accuracy & b) ensure proper function of carry ammo & all stand-by ammo. By stand-by ammo, I mean the handful of rounds that I had out of the boxes in speed strips either in my car or in my night stand for emergency re-loads. All my other ammo I keep mostly stored in the original boxes with dates of purchases (to ensure that I expend oldest rounds first) & properly stored in waterproof/airtight steel cases locked away.

I had heard some scarce complaints about my top tier Self-Defense load–Hornandy Critical Defense FTX, standard pressure–that the primers went bad after two years or less after purchase. I read this on a forum, but other than that, most of the user reviews were positive regarding this cartridge. Nevertheless, I had to see for myself whether or not I could trust this ammo given my storage situation. It’s possible the plaintiff did not store his ammo properly.

Bypassing any suspense, I’ll say now that all 5 loose rounds performed flawlessly. I will continue to trust this bullet design as my top tier SD round. There’s no reason to mistrust it’s shelf life given my storage habits. These 5 bullets were loose, in ammo cars in cars–in a small box near by bed stand with the windows opened nearby during the summer, etc–for two years–& no ignition problems for me.

Here is the firearm I used in the day’s session. It’s a Smith & Wesson 642 Centennial J-Frame. It weights about 15oz unloaded. That featured, combined with its completely enclosed hammer, make it a very safe & attractive option for carry. However, it’s light weight & sub-2 inch barrel require practice to achieve accuracy past “contact distance.”

Key Facts

  • Range time was 1 hour for $20–online reservations only, a hold over policy from the Covid-19 era which caught me off guard
  • Accustomed to purchasing 30 minute sessions during the Covid-19 era, I came only prepared for a 30 minute session which I extended to 35 once I realized I had paid for an hour. While the small .38 special was reasonably comfortable to shoot, it would have been less enjoyable to continue shooting far beyond that. Still, I would have taken advantage of the rare range trip had ammo scarcity not been such a concern (.38 Spcl bullets are almost NEVER available post the supply shortage & ammo shortage during the Covid-19 era).
  • In 35 minutes, I fired 42 shots–a record for a single range session with my small J-frame. I typically consider 35 shots a full days work for that firearm.
  • Bullet Manufacturers used: 158 grain LRN “gold tips” were MagTech that came in a blue & white box of 50. After my range session, it looks like I’m out of this particular ammo now. The manufacturer doesn’t use the term “gold tips;” it’s just a way for me to distinguish between those & the Armscorp bullet of the same weight & design.
  • Armscor 158 grain LRN “dull tips” are actually my newest bullets, purchased around spring of 2022. I usually like to shoot the old ones first but I wanted to run a few samples of this ammo at the range before trusting it anywhere else to assess reliability & accuracy. They performed identically to the MagTechs.
  • The 130 grain FMJ were mostly Remington UMC. I left the remaining 20 rounds in the original box in my range bag. It had been opened for a while & I didn’t expend all 30 of the 50 rounds during this session. I don’t think I have another box but the 3 boxes of AE in the same weight & bullet design should work just as well.
  • The aforementioned Armscor ammo is listed as “FMJ” on the box but looks more like LRN. (Note to Self) Look for 158 FN as an option for deep woods carry.
  • (Note to Self) Look for another box of Hornady CD FTX & purchase even as high as $30/box–just one box.

  • First shot with this firearm in almost 2 years to the day
  • Distance–5 yards
  • Target: Pumkin at Top Left
  • Aimed just above the nose, struck slight right
5 yards5 yards5 yards
Cylinder1: 158 grain LRN Gold TipsCylinder4: 158 grain Dull Tips
Cylinder2: 158 grn LRN Gold Tips X4, Dull Tip X1Cylinder5: 158 grain Dull TipsX4, 130 FMJX1
Cylinder 3: 158 grn LRN Dull Tips

BOTTOM: This was my first shot at 7 yards. I aimed for the nose & struck just above at the bottom of the pumkin stem. It looks like two shots in the same hole but it as just one; I guess the way the paper crumpled just bade the hole look like it came from 2 bullets.
Cylinder6: 7 yardsCylinder7: 7 yards
130 grn FMJ X 3, Hornandy 110 grn FTX (std) X 2158 LRN Dull Tips X 3, 130 FMJ X 2
Cylinder8: 10 yards

Final Analysis

  • My proficiency had not fallen off much inside of 21 yards, which is typical purely self-defense range.
  • All the ammo that I had been keeping loose for potential re-loads performed flawlessly, even the ones I had kept in a speed strip in my car during all manner of weather conditions.
  • I shoot the 130 grain FMJ the most accurately with the 158 grain LRN the next most accurately.
  • I shoot the 110 FTX least accurately but still well enough for self-defense proficiency.
  • At distance, I managed a 9.5″ group in a straight vertical line during my very first shots at 15 yards, which I consider reasonably proficient. However, two years ago, I was able to place a group of that size out to about 20 yards with this same handgun–reaffirming the trend that the first skill to go to distance shooting.
  • The next skill to go is trigger control.

Looking Ahead/What to work on

  • Work on accuracy at distance: as I lost accuracy, I had to remind myself of two fundamentals that have helped improve immensely over the last 4 years: a) sight picture-trigger pull-bang (keep a consistent, smooth trigger pull) & b) allow the weapon to recoil straight up/don’t fight the recoil after the shot
  • Regain consistent accuracy out to 20-25 yards; although I can retail self-defense proficiency within 8 yards or so even after 2 years of zero practice. This is encouraging to know. I depend on 2 different handguns chambered in two different calibers. With ammo prices increasing, ammo scarcity common, & the busyness of frequently working 50-60 hour weeks–I often go longer than desired between practice sessions with the same handgun. At least I know I can still responsibly defend myself within the common self defense distances as long as two years after practicing. I don’t plan to let that much time pass, but there will be times when I’ll have no chance. For the record, I have been to the range twice since November of 2020 including Sunday’s session. But the previous session, I used my compact 9mm, which is much easier to shoot accurately than the .38 Special. Ideally, I’d like to go once every 3 months on a good year & rarely go more than a year without at least on practice session moving forward.
  • I will use 130 grain FMJ as my general purpose round confidently, which is a benefit because it’s the easiest design to find & most economical.
  • I will use the 110 grain FTX as my top tier SD design; which seems poised to thrive in the role in indoor home defense. The bullet design consistently fully expands while penetrates rather shallowly (10-12 inches max). While the lower penetration would make this gun a fail for FBI field agents, it makes me feel safer about using it indoors to avoid over-penetration into the next room or worse.

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