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Review: S&W 351PD

When people find something that they like, they should stick with it, and that applies to firearms just as it applies to everything else. And who doesn't like the idea of 7 shot .22 Magnum in an 11-ounce package? Bill Jordan certainly did, and that's a pretty good endorsement.  If you agree with the above then at one time or another you have probably taken a look at the S&W 351PD, and, after realizing that there were very few other .22 Magnum DA revolvers on the market, kept coming back to it.  God knows I certainly did.

Naturally, the .22 Magnum isn't an ideal self-defense round. Out of the 351PDs short barrel, it only gives marginally higher velocities than the .22LR. It does, however, throw a properly jacketed bullet, albeit one that's generally designed to perform at much higher speeds. What really makes the .22 Magnum so endearing is that the cartridges can still be found at Walmart for a fairly cheap price, make a lot of noise, and pack a surprising amount of punch out of longer barrels. I'm also a big fan of ammo commonality, and the fact that the .22 Magnum is a great little rifle round is very appealing.

On paper, everything about the 351PD sounds good – except for the 1 7/8” barrel, that is. The barrel is just too short to get a worthwhile increase in velocity from what is really a rifle cartridge. Velocity testing backs this up – there wasn't a single round that I tested that got more than 200 FPS over the fastest .22LR (Stinger). The fastest WMR round was the CCI Maxi Mag + V (30 grains), and that just broke 1300 fps.  Even a 3-inch barrel would have made a substantial difference.   Make no mistake about, the .22 Magnum is definitely not a poor man's 5.7x28.  Even out of  a four inch barrel the .22 Magnum is only going about 1500 fps where the 5.7 is cruising along at about 2000 fps.  Couple this with substantial differences in bullet design (the .22 Magnum is NOT a self-defense round), and there really isn't any comparison.  This isn't to say that I don't like the .22 Magnum out of a handgun, I just prefer to use it as a plinker rather than a serious self-defense piece.  Think of .22 Magnum in a handgun as more of a miniature .22LR rifle and that will help put it in proper perspective.

The 351PD is a marvel of modern machining, streamlined and reduced in all the right places. It has nice high visibility sights (better than the 317), a short (but very heavy) trigger, and an impressive amount of muzzle blast. The 351PD is a real pleasure to shoot and plenty accurate. That's why I shot the heck out of two of them.  Right up until they broke...

And break they did, in the exact same place, the thin little lip where the cylinder meets the crane. When my first gun broke I simply brought it back to the dealer and got another. When the second one broke I sent it to Smith and Wesson, who promptly replaced the cylinder and sent it back. When THAT cylinder broke I had it fixed AGAIN, and then sold it off and vowed not to buy another one.

This was a sore disappointment, because despite the flaws of the gun / cartridge combination, I was really smitten with the damn thing. The 351PD is the most accurate snubby I have ever fired. Yet it is impossible to ignore the fact that a fairly expensive firearm broke in the same place three different times, a break that caused the weapon to become inoperable and wouldn't allow the cylinder to close.

Aside from exploding in your face, a gun that suddenly becomes totally inoperable is about the worst things that could happen to a defensive firearm. And the 351PD, despite its meager cartridge, is intended to be a defensive firearm, one that is often recommended to women and other that are recoil shy. How such a serious design flaw could be missed during testing is beyond me. I'm just glad I found it when I did.

Pros: Extremely lightweight, low recoil, accurate, fun to shoot

Cons: They break.

Not recommended

Model: 351PD

Action: DA

Sights: Fixed

Caliber: .22 Magnum

Overall length: 6 1/4 inches