The Smith & Wesson Model 14 Target Masterpiece and Model 15 Combat Masterpiece are by far some of Big Blue’s best old school blued steel K-Frame .38 Special goodness. These guns were from a bygone era, back when gasoline was leaded, television was the Big Three Networks, and spare ammo on a cop’s duty belt was carried in a dump pouch.
Some see these as antiquated lead slingers by today’s standards. Six-shot, .38 Special chambered medium frame revolvers with four- and six-inch barrels. Hell, the sights on these are relatively fragile by today’s standards. But you know what? I don’t care.
These guns are hidden gems. In an age of seventeen-round mags in wonder nines, any scoff at the idea of having a .38 Special K-Frame as their go-to hand. But it wasn’t that long ago that guns like these shown here were the daily duty guns of many in uniform around the world.
The United States Air Force Strategic Air Command and USAF’s Security Forces as a whole used the Model 15 for a very long time. First with SAC’s Elite Guards carrying nickel plated models with stag grips.
Regular security forces carried bog standard blued models.
The Model 15 served a long and storied career with the USAF up until the very last ones were recently replaced by the SIG Sauer M18 pistol. The last few were used as blank training guns.
But besides the Air Force, the Model 15 served all across the country in various police, sheriffs, and correctional departments. Both city of Miami PD and Miami-Dade PD in South Florida were fond of the Model 15.
I recall seeing Model 15s in holsters of numerous police officers when I was growing up in Miami. In talking with the old salts who carried six shooters as duty guns, many said they did the job and they were glad to have ’em.
Big Blue’s six-inch target model is a true classic that harkens back to the Model K-38 Target Masterpiece. A gun that was known for its accuracy in bullseye shooting and also as a viable police duty gun.
Out west, the Los Angeles PD was a big fan of the Model 14. The gun lasted in service up until the late 1990s. It even was used during the famous 1997 North Hollywood shootout when Larry Phillips Jr. and Emil Mătăsăreanu robbed Bank of America’s North Hollywood branch. The two bank robbers got into a forty-four minute gun battle with the LAPD and that was the major turning point in American Law Enforcement that broke the camel’s back on duty guns.
You had some hold outs that still had a soft spot for the wheel gun and others were still simply against the adoption of the automatic as a primary service pistol for their officers. But still, the Model 14 lasted that long, especially with an agency like the LAPD since they were an early adopter of the Beretta 92FS back in the 1980s. You can see one of the other officers in the photo carrying a Beretta Wonder-Nine.
In South Florida, the change was much quicker with City of Miami PD adopting the GLOCK as their duty firearm in the mid 1980s.
Anyways, enough of the history lesson. Let’s look at the guns themselves.
The Model 14 and Model 15 are built off the same size K-Frame receiver. The only real difference between the two is the barrel, front sights, hammer, and trigger. The Model 14 was built to be a target gun first and foremost while the Model 15 was built as an adjustable sight duty gun.
You can see that the Model 15 has a standard ramped front sight while the Model 14 has a more traditional Patridge front sight. The different was for breaking leather. A ramped front sight made it easier to draw and not snag on the leather thumb strap of the duty holster. A traditional Patridge front sight was something you’d find on target guns where a fast draw wasn’t an issue.
The hammer on the Model 15 is smaller in profile. Again, it was all about breaking leather on the draw and preventing it from snagging on the thumb strap to clothing. The Model 15 has a wider hammer so it is easier for a target shooter to cock it for single action.
The rear sight of this particular Model 15 was replaced with an aftermarket Millett adjustable sight. From the factory, the rear sight would have been the same as seen on the Model 15.
The Model 14 has a smooth faced trigger while the Model 15 as a ribbed trigger. Again, it was all about their intended uses. A Smooth faced trigger is easier on the finger pad for double action shooting. Since the Model 14 was instead to be a target gun, the idea that the shooter would be making a lot of shots and not tearing up the finger was a good idea.
The Model 15 on the other hand, has a ribbed trigger. Why? Sweat, rain, gloves, etc . . . The idea was that a rougher textured trigger would give a good perch to the shooter’s finger in any situation.
So how do they shoot? Well, I shot six rounds in each gun at 25 yards from a fixed rest at Talon Range in Midway, FL. I’d say the targets speak for themselves.
All in all, I think that isn’t bad shooting for some old school blued steel wheel guns. Especially with bottom of the barrel no name reloads that I’ve had sitting in an ammo can since George W. Bush was in office.
Are there better guns today? Yes, of course there are. But that doesn’t mean guns like the Model 14 and Model 15 are worthless or useless. No, I think they’re still good at being used for home defense or kept in a business in case a client with ulterior motives tries to make a forced five finger discount transaction.
Revolvers like these are climbing in value and that means their prices are going up. But again, I’m still fine using such a gun for self defense, especially if it was a gun that someone got for free. A lot of these guns are floating around in nightstand drawers and in the back of safes collecting dust just waiting to be inherited by the next generation of American shooters.
And with the way things are on during these crazy times, a gun is better than no gun. A box of .38 Special is still out there and somewhat affordable. Plus, they’re great tools to train new shooters on. Besides, some vagabond breaking into your house might have second thoughts if this is what he sees.
In the end, don’t hold your nose up at guns like these. They’re still great shooters and with modern defensive loads, these old work horses still have some pep left in them.
Luis Valdes is the Florida Director for Gun Owners of America.