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I like weird guns. In fact, I pretty much like all guns. I know in the past, some people haven’t understood some of my Obscure Objects of Desire, and I get it. That said, I think we can all agree the S&W M1917 revolver was a pretty awesome gun and worthy of being an OOOD status.

While I’m a fan of nearly all guns, like many of us, I have a list of some that are more equal than others. Some call them grail guns, and I have mine. The M1917 ranks quite high on that list. So when I picked one up for $310 dollars, I walked away quite happy with myself. 

What’s an M1917? 

When the United States entered World War I, they didn’t have handguns. Hell, they didn’t really have enough rifles. While the M1911 and Springfield M1903 often get the credit for winning the war, the Enfield M1917 rifle and M1917 revolvers were issued in greater numbers than the M1903 and M1911 ever were. When they entered the war, the United States needed handguns, so they approached both Colt and Smith & Wesson about producing revolvers for the war effort. 

S&W adapted the famed Triple Lock to be the M1917. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

Not just any revolvers, .45 ACP revolvers. This was tricky since those fat .45 ACP pills don’t have a pronounced rim. Luckily Daniel B. Wesson created the half-moon clip and quickly solved that problem. S&W allowed Colt to use the clip technology for free in an effort to get our Doughboys the guns they needed. Colt used the M1909 New Service to form their .45 ACP revolver, and Smith used the famed Triple Lock .44 Hand Ejector. 

Obviously, both were converted to .45 ACP. These guns armed two-thirds of soldiers who carried handguns. They were also used in World War II and even saw combat with the Tunnel Rat types in Vietnam. They’re hardy, well-made pieces of American steel, so what’s not to love?

The M1917 Design 

Predictably, this is a pretty standard turn-of-the-century revolver. The ejection rod isn’t shrouded. It’s a double-action with thin grips and a lanyard loop pokes out from the bottom of the grip. The sights are a big front blade up front and a traditional rear trench in the top strap. The guns held six rounds and they used half-moon clips originally. After the war, full-moon clips became available.

Moon clips are easy to find on the after market and make reloading fast. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

The S&W Model M1917 used a shoulder machined into the cylinder so it can be fired without the moon clips, but ejection is a little tricky. Also, a cartridge known as .45 Auto Rim existed, which was essentially a .45 ACP round with a rim for these revolvers. 

I enjoyed shooting the S&W M1917, but I probably won’t shoot it often. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

These barrels were 5.5 inches long with an overall length of 10.8 inches. They were big guns, especially compared to the M1911. S&W’s M1917 weighed 2.25 pounds. 

My example is the less collectible M1937 Brazillian contract model, but it still scratches my itch for an M1917. Brazil needed revolvers and ordered 25,000 of the M1917s in 1937. These guns have a Brazilian crest stamped on the side of the gun, but they were all produced in the United States. The biggest difference is the crest and the commercial checkered grips. 

The sight is simple, but effective (Travis Pike for TTAG)

It bears mentioning these guns were quite popular. The Brits and French also used them during the World Wars. Smith produced a commercial version of the gun with a nice blued finish. S&W has since continued to produce numerous .45 ACP revolvers. 

At the Range

I’ve shot lots of .45 ACP in my day and I love a good .45, but I rarely shoot them anymore. After plunking down the credit card for some standard 230-grain FMJs in brass cases, I hit the range. I had some new production full moon clips and loaded them up. They dropped in without issue, and I was excited. I love shooting old guns, and this was a gun I had wanted my whole adult life. 

The little gun fired well for it’s old age (Travis Pike for TTAG)

I let loose with a few slow-fire double-action rounds. The old honed and clearly refined trigger was quite smooth. It’s heavy, but it glides rearward. I was impressed, and the gun proved decently accurate. I had a man-sized silhouette target and dumped all six rounds in the target’s chest in double action at fifteen yards with ease. 

It’s a big gun, and 5.5 inches of barrel makes it battle ready (Travis Pike for TTAG)

I suck with sights like these, but if I took my time, I could put all six rounds into the black of a B8 at 25 yards using the single-action trigger. The single action pull is a blessing. It’s light, short, and quite nice. You get that surprise break with it. 

A Big Boomer 

Recoil was a surprise. In my brain, I know what .45 ACP feels like, and this was a bit more intense than that. I realized I know what a .45 ACP feels like through a semi-automatic, not a revolver. Semis eat a little bit of the recoil for you. In a revolver, you get it all. That’s not to say it’s painful or uncontrollable, it just surprised me. The gun bucked a bit, and those slim grips didn’t help. 

The gun wants to spin around in your hand a little. It’s easy to see why so many M1917s wore bigger commercial grips. Still, I’d feel comfortable taking on the forces of the Kaiser with the S&W M1917. 

The Smith and Wesson guns wer eused for both World Wars (Travis Pike for TTAG)

Reloading with the moon clips is a breeze. It’s almost cheating. Eject the empty one, toss in a fresh one, and start shooting. It’s as simple as can be. Not much slower than reloading an automatic.

Unloading those empties from the moon clips is a hassle, though, especially when you’re trying to avoid bending the clips. I see why Auto Rim was a thing and why those moon clip unloaders exist. 

The little gun fired well for it’s old age (Travis Pike for TTAG)

Did the M1917 live up to my expectations? Hell yeah, it did. I loved shooting this gun. It’s a living piece of history. Guns are one of the rare things you can own and use from a hundred years ago. You can experience nearly the same thing soldiers did a century ago. That’s why I love old guns and why the Obscure Object of Desire articles will remain favorites of mine.


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  1. I think I lost the cartridge but if not somewhere around here I’ve an .45R. I found it in on of my grandpas boxes. He had a lot of neat leftovers, an attachment that hid a derringer in your sleeve was one I remember, he showed me how it worked. However he didnt have none of the gunms, all he had was a .410 Iver Johnson, and single shot .22 same brand and a flintlock he said his dad had when they came to kansas via covered wagon. 20 miles a day he said they could make.

    • 20 m p d was some haulin butt speed in a covered wagon! My grandma went to Kansas in a wagon… this was before 1900, she was very young at that time.

  2. My grandfather’s M1917 was lost in a burglary. He used to joke about not being able to hit a barn door. It was more effective to simply throw the revolver at the enemy. Still hoping to get it recovered..

    • For a little more than 300 bucks he got a serviceable revolver with some history to it. Surface rust can be dealt with.

      I would refinish it and put neoprene grips on it. But that’s just me.

  3. Nothing obscure about a M1917. I want one. Closest I ever got was a 4″ 625. Foolishly let it go. Although, I always really wanted a 5″. Very good article Travis. Hope to run into you at Talon one day. Bought a pistol out of J.D.’s safe the other day. It was from the estate of a mutual friend. Stay safe.

  4. The fact that it is a Brazillian co tract makes me like it even more. I know. I’m weird. Reminds me of an Einar knock off I have.

  5. Meant to say, that heavier felt recoil you experienced? I thought the same when I shot my first 1917. I attributed it to the higher bore axis as opposed to the 1911. Just a thought. BTW, a couple of guys here were discussing fried chicken the other day. If anyone finds themselves at Talon and want fried chicken for lunch go to Lindy’s. It’s just around the corner. You’ll throw rocks at the national chains. BBQ? Drive a couple of miles east into Leon County. As soon as you cross the river turn left into Warriors. You can watch the Ochalochnee River roll by while you have lunch. Highly recommended by myself and others.

  6. IIRC- the 1917 in both S&W and Colt came into usage first during “policing” ops in the Philippines following the Spanish-American hostilities, sometime in the early 1910s.

    From what I recall reading, US soldiers were armed with .38 S&W revolvers and when attacked by Moro tribesmen, weren’t able to put them down and were often killed even though their attacker had been holed several times. Switching to the .45 ACP versions changed all that.

    I can’t confirm this story but read it in several different sources many years back.

    • You are almost certainly thinking of the M1909 Colt. This was a large frame New Service Colt chambered in the M1909 cartridge, which was basically 45 Colt with a wider rim. (the guns could shoot .45 Colt, but Army Ammo had larger rims than commercial)

    • Please explain how a 1917 revolver could have been in use almost twenty years before it was introduced.

  7. I’m not sure I would call the M1917 Obscure. On the other hand this example is the much less well known Brazilian contract version.

    Besides the commercial checkered grips, the M1937 also has much better sights than the US WWI guns, with a square rear notch instead of a little U shaped divot.

  8. Colt M1917 first big bore revolver I ever shot. I was around 10 that thing was HUGE. The kick seemed pretty serious compared to the m10 s&w .38 dad usually let me shoot. Still have both. Wont ever sell either Someday they’ll get handed on.

    • I use to own one of the Colt 1917’s and really liked it as a collector’s item that I could also use. Mine had been refinished and was in really nice condition for only about $300 (10 years ago). The fact that it had beem refinished really lowered the collectability of it, but didn’t both me .
      It wasn’t of particular sentimental value and I sold it during a time of financial difficulty (while keeping my more practical handguns like the Security Six, LCP, and Glock). The Colt was cool, but I felt that a gun that big and heavy kinda ough to be a .41 or.44 mag. I do miss it, but would still choose the Security Six over it every time.

  9. I’ve got an M1917 among my collection. Never fired it, really didn’t want to ever fire it. Its packed away, never even tried to clean it up. Its still in the state in which I received it.

    My Great-Great Grandfather bought it home from the war with him in a bag of stuff that he never unpacked and that bag got stored away in his basement. The house got passed along to my Grandfather as did everything in it along with my Great-Great Grandfather gun collection, and my Grandfather came across the bag while cleaning out the house preparing it for sale but remembered that he had been told about the bag and the gun in it. The bag got opened, and it contained a blood soaked (of course dried but forever stained) uniform, some random gear, and the M1917 wrapped in a cloth. The gun got passed along to my dad with the story behind it. When my dad died his collection of guns, along with the collections of my Great-Great Grandfather and Grandfather, was passed along to us kids but I maintain the collection. In those many guns was the M1917 still wrapped in the disintegrating cloth inside a box. It has some rust on it, and out of the barrel when I shook it a little came these small flakes and I had those tested and they are human blood.

    The story behind the gun is; One day my Great-Great Grandfather along with some other troops had just occupied an abandoned trench while trying to move closer to German lines to attack a machine gun nest. While traveling along the trench they encountered some German soldiers who were probably trying to do the same thing to get closer to the American troops. It was a close quarters fire fight that degenerated into hand to hand combat with knives and anything else they could use. My Great-Great Grandfather had already fired all rounds in the M1917 but it was still in his hand when a german soldier charged at him so he shoved it forward deep into the eye socket of the german soldier then pulled his knife out and killed the soldier. That’s how the blood soaked uniform and blood in the barrel of the gun came to be. Having lost men one man in the skirmish and having two wounded, my Great-Great Grandfather ordered the wounded to remain in the trench while he and the three others not wounded proceeded on their mission which they accomplished. On the way back he went to the trench and retrieved his wounded and dead then made it back to a British occupied trench where he and the others stayed overnight. The next day was 11 November, 1918 and WWI ended.

    • That is a fascinating account. I’m glad your ancestor survived. WW1 was such a senseless and stupid war (as are most wars). It is especially sad that those guys had to die right at the end of the war.

    • correction, my Great-Grandfather…not Great-Great Grandfather…damn rogue grammer check acting up again. does that when I add a – and inserts the previous word again. only does it here with the word press comment system when I post on my phone so if I don’t catch it and correct it gets posted incorrectly with the extra previous word that came before the – without a space between.

    • Vs four from “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”
      By Eric Bogle

      And now every April I sit on my porch
      And I watch the parade pass before me
      And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
      Reliving old dreams of past glory
      And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
      The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
      And the young people ask, “What are they marching for?”
      And I ask myself the same question
      And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
      And the old men answer to the call
      But year after year their numbers get fewer
      Some day no one will march there at all

  10. I have no hands on experience with the Brazilian contract model but the original U.S. military revolvers were very sorry examples of Smith gun making. The one I have owned and shot as well as my colleagues examples gave dismal accuracy and the workmanship was not up to the Smith & Wesson standards of their commercially made guns of that time period.

    Of course they are collectors items that will continue to appreciate in value but as shooters they suck big time,

    • Nobody believes you, the largest proponent of gun control here, owns or owned a gun. Your father was a gunsmith. And he lives in a different city in Ohio from you. And his facebook page celebrates his retirement and mentions nothing about you.

      His mentally ill, fascist son must have been a heartbreak for him.

      • to the depraved Jethro the Janitor

        A person like you who constantly stalks another with insults and never has any useful information to add to the subject is the one who is mentally ill. The ATF hopefully is monitoring you and your depraved rantings and should investigate you.

        And my father was never a gunsmith nor was I.

        • Heartsville, Ohio. Not sure if I spelled it right. Can look it up again. I never said you were a gunsmith. It would be hard to work in the gun industry when you are a prohibited person.

    • The Brazilian guns were essentially commercial production models of the M1917 that Smith kept making after WWI, but parkerized. That’s why most of them have commercial checkered stocks. They came right off the civilian assembly line. Workmanship (other than the finish) is what one would expect of a mid 1930s Smith.

      • to Mark

        I think the big problem with the older smiths that had fixed sights was the horrible half moon front sight. Light tends to reflect off of them, especially if the bluing is faded or worn off making them very difficult to see, especially for older people. Most of the sights tended to be way more narrow than the target grade sights which again make them more difficult to see. All this did not help one to shoot small groups.

        I also had a post WWII Smith M&P .38 special that had the half moon sight and I hated the front sight.

    • “I have no hands on experience with the Brazilian contract model ….”

      you have no real hands on experience with firearms, period.

  11. I would buy almost any Smith revolver for 350 much less a 1917. A tapered barrel hand ejector of that era of any sort would make me happy.

  12. I have loved Smith and Wesson Revolvers for over fifty years.
    But I will not buy and of them anymore if they contain the key lock.
    The latest revolver that I have purchased from S & W was the
    wonderful M&P 340 in .357 magnum. That is what I consider
    one of the ultimate CCW pieces that has been invented, but no lock!




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