Six Inch Showdown: Ruger Security Six, S&W Model 19-4, and a Colt Trooper MK III.

There was once a time when your average Highway Patrolman anywhere in the U.S. carried a six shooter, but not just any six shooter. Oh no, they carried six-inch blasters chambered in the mythical cartridge known as the .357 Magnum.

California Highway Patrol Motorman inspecting the scene of a major bridge accident, notice the hog leg strapped to him.

Yes boys and girls, there was once a time when the cops tasked with patrolling our highways and byways carried six-inch tubes on their hips in basketweave leather and carried their spare ammo in dump pouches.

Florida Highway Patrol back in the day with their high speed 1980 Pontiac Firebird pursuit car.

Why? Because when you’re limited to six rounds and dealing with heavy car bodies or windshields, you needed the most velocity you could squeeze out of the .357 Magnum.

Now, everyone who didn’t grow up around cops from the era think that back then, agencies issued guns like the Colt Python in mass. In fact, though the Python was issued to some agencies like the Georgia State Patrol, it was quite rare among law enforcement.

Georgia State Patrol with Colt Pythons.

The Colt Python was an expensive gun. Back then, just as today, the bean counters ruled what usually went into a cop’s holster. When you only have so much money to spend on a duty gun, cost does become a factor. The majority of cops then carried something a little more budget-friendly.

Guns like the Ruger Security Six, S&W Model 19, and the Colt Trooper MK III.

Top to bottom: Colt, S&W, and Ruger.

Just to give you an idea on prices: $1.00 in 1978 had the buying power of $4.20 today. Why even mention this? Because back then, a Ruger Security Six cost $121.00 ($508.06), a S&W Model 19 cost $141.00 ($592.04), and a Colt Trooper MK III cost $161.00 ($676.20). A Colt Python, meanwhile, cost around $349.00 ($1,329.26).

That all adds up when you’re trying to equip a department, or as a private purchase, you’re trying to get the best bang for your buck.

In those years, these were the common guns you’d see a budget-conscious cop carrying. Quality and value all rolled into one. Again, anyone worth their salt back then ditched wood and went with Pachmayrs. While wood is pretty, wood is also slippery. Rubber grips reduce felt recoil and add texture for better grip.

The Colt Trooper MK III started life in 1969. Colt after WWII had the Python and original Trooper line in production. But the Trooper was becoming an expensive gun to produce. Colt, concerned their decline in the market was due to the rising costs of labor and manufacturing processes, created an entirely new product line of revolvers dubbed the MK III series

Original Colt Trooper MK III ad.

It was Colt’s first new major design since the beginning of the 20th century. The MK IIIs introduced the J-Frame (not to be confused with S&W’s J-Frame size) and had no parts interchangeability with the older guns.

The Trooper MK III has a transfer-bar safety in the lockwork and the springs used in the Mark III internals were also an improvement. Gone were the older flat style as found in the Python. They were replaced with corrosion-resistant stainless steel coiled springs.

S&W had their tried and true K-Frame Model 19 Combat Magnum. A gun designed by legendary lawman and gunfighter, Bill Jordan. The Model 19 was the ever classic .38 Special-only Model 15 Combat Masterpiece, strengthened for the .357 Magnum and released in 1957. It was an instant hit.

Original S&W advertisement showing off the Model 19.

As time marched forward, the Model 19 started to take away the market that was once held by the original Colt Trooper. Hence why the Prancing Pony designed the MK III line to compete against Big Blue.

Just to give you an idea, by the late 1970s of every ten guns sold to a police department Colt sold one and S&W sold nine. It was that much of a hit. Agencies across the country issued it and cops and civilians alike private-purchased them.

But Ruger, seeing how the market was, saw an opportunity. Starting in 1972, Ruger introduced the Security Six to the law enforcement market. A company known for making quality firearms at an very affordable price, the Security Six was Ruger’s attempt to do what S&W did to Colt. A quality gun at an competitive price.

Original Ruger Six Series ad showing all the different options in the product line.

The Security Six was everything that the Model 19 was, but for a cheaper price and it was stronger, too, like the mythical Phoenix itself.

The S&W Model 19 had one fatal flaw. When the gun was designed, the standard practice was qualify and train with lower pressure .38 Special and carry .357 Magnum on duty. Why? Because if you fired a steady diet of higher pressure .357 Magnum, the forcing cone could develop a crack and render the gun useless until the barrel was replaced.

The Security Six was an engineering marvel. No side plate, no tools needed to a complete breakdown for cleaning except for removing grips. The gun was solid and stout. It ate .357 Magnum loads all day every day without a problem and begged for more.

Plus, it was extremely affordable due to the investment casting methods Ruger used in their manufacturing.

Top to bottom: Colt, Ruger, and S&W.

All three guns have medium contour barrels and fixed front sights.

Left to right: S&W, Ruger, and Colt.

The rear sights are all adjustable for windage and elevation. The S&W has a fully serrated top strap and barrel to reduce glare. The top strap on the Ruger is polished and only the barrel has serrations to reduce glare. The Colt is bead blasted from start to finish for reduced glare.

Top to bottom: Ruger, S&W, and Colt.

The cylinder release latches all operate differently. Ruger is a button that you push in, S&W is operated by pushing forward, and Colt works by pulling backwards.

In the accuracy department, all three guns are great for self defense and handle like a dream. I shot six rounds of Armscor 125gr .38 Special FMJ in each at 25 yards from the bench.

Let’s see the results.

Colt Trooper MK III
S&W Model 19-4
Ruger Security Six

As you can see, all three are great shooters with the S&W being the best among the group in terms of accuracy. Trigger wise, the Colt was the smoothest with the Ruger being the roughest. But the trigger on the Ruger is not bad. Not by any means. It is still better than any slicked up striker fired handgun that’s out there today.

If I were to select only one gun to carry on duty, it’d be a toss up between the Colt and the Ruger. The Ruger beats the other two in cost and toughness. But the Colt just has the slick royal blue finish and such a amazing trigger. The S&W is a fine gun and I have my fair share of them. But for duty use, I’m really torn between the Colt and Ruger with a tiny edge going towards the Ruger.

All three guns shown were made in 1978 and they’re all great examples of guns from yesteryear. Back when the craftsmen making them took pride in their work and hand fitting and polishing of parts were common. A quality that will never return to a standard production revolver today for such a great, affordable price.

Top to bottom: Ruger, S&W, and Colt.

Ruger ceased making the Security Six in 1988 with the release of the GP100. Bill Ruger stated that due to market forces and costs, they never made a great profit on the Security Six due to the machining required to make the guns. The GP100, while stronger, was also cheaper to produce.

Colt stopped making the MK III line in 1983 due to costs. The MK V line replaced it as an ever cheaper design and that line ended production in the 1990s.

S&W ceased production of the K-Frame .357 Magnum in the mid 2000s but recently brought them back. But they’re a shadow of their former selves with the Classic Line. MIM parts, two piece barrels, frame mounted firing pins, and the lawyer lock.

These guns are really awesome time capsules from an era when lower cost was still being matched with quality. So don’t let these guns pass you by, especially the six-inch models.

They’re a hoot to shoot. But be forewarned, prices on originals like these are only going up.

Luis Valdes is the Florida Director for Gun Owners of America.

 

38 COMMENTS

  1. Luis,

    S&W M-28 for the win! I have my Dad’s, he carried it for years as an officer…I carried it for a few years until my agency offered us the opportunity to carry a semi-auto…my affair with the Sig P-220 started at that time.

    Both are fine weapons for LE duty!

    • Another really, really old guy with you Montana. Couldn’t believe the N-frame .357 6″ Model 28….actually dubbed The Highway Patrolman….wasn’t mentioned. Bought mine in about 1976-78 from Dehner’s Hardware in Burlington, Iowa for $150.00. Still have it. LNIB.

    • I agree. I have an old 5-screw 6″ Mod 28 that has a trigger equal to what the Performance Shop sends out today. Also have an older, 5 screw 8 3/8″ Mod 27, basically the same gun with more frills, as well. Both are probably “overkill” for .357 Mag but solid and wonderful shooters. I also packed a Model 19-2 in 4″ for a while when weight made a difference. All things being equal between S&W, Colt and Ruger, for ME it’s hard for the others to match the cocked, “single action” trigger of a good Smith. All the old K’s and N’s used to come with a tremendous trigger break, factories used to take a lot of pride in their products. I guess time is money…

      https://youtu.be/wX3hRj6XoUM

  2. “…three-way six-incher showdown…”

    Oh, the potential jokes to be unpacked from that…

    ****
    I have an original 1983 S&W model 68 stamped with “CHP” as part of an order from the CA Hwy Patrol that was canceled after shipment. The FFL received five of them that were originally intended to be sold to Patrolmen, but sold them to the public instead. Amazing that was allowed, considering it says “CHP” right on its stainless steel frame.

    My uncle got one, and my dad got another. It became mine thereafter. Doesn’t accept .357 Mag, but with its six inch barrel it throws .38 SPL just fine. My wife likes it because it’s a solid, heavy gun with practically no muzzle climb.

    • EDIT:

      I just checked my personal inventory catalog and realized it’s actually a 1982 Sturm Ruger Security Six. Stainless steel, 6″ barrel, stamped “CHP” on the frame, .38 SPL.

      Oiy…that mix-up was almost as bad as my zinc/tin fumble, lol…

  3. “Why? Because when you’re limited to six rounds and dealing with heavy car bodies or windshields, you needed the most velocity you could squeeze out of the .357 Magnum.”

    Interesting juxtaposition of this paragraph being just above a political ad showing Biden and ilk on a stage celebrating their stolen victory.

    Anyhow, +1 on those classic revolvers. One of my uncles had a Security Six that was a joy to shoot. It went missing years ago after a visit by some of his old “friends” as he was on his deathbed. I’m watching for the right one to show up on my radar, as I am replacing some of the lost family guns.

  4. Ruger speed six and service six were also fine guns. Some departments chose the cheaper price of the fixed sight service six. I worked for a time with a postal inspector who carried a speed six in .38 special with USPS markings.

  5. “stolen victory“?

    Are you still beating that Dead horse?

    Texas just closed their 2020 voter investigation, after 22,000 hours of investigation they found a grand total of 16 individual voters in violation.

    And lieutenant governor Patrick still has yet to award his $1 million bounty for evidence of election tampering, if the election was stolen why hasn’t anyone claimed this reward? Because it’s all bullshit…

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.houstonchronicle.com/politics/texas/amp/Ken-Paxton-s-beefed-up-2020-voter-fraud-unit-15820210.php

    • Hey, we heard “Russia Russia Russia! Omifreakingosh RUSSIA!” For 5 years and counting.

      After that hysterical, perpetual tantrum, you people have lost all credibility to complain about a thing of a similar ilk from the right.

    • Someone needs to build a wall around your house so you can’t get out, and then they need to cut off your utilities and internet.

    • Shut up communist.

      https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.houstonchronicle.com/politics/texas/amp/TX-woman-arrested-election-fraud-project-veritas-15867537.php

      Fraud happened, people like you just stonewalled investigations long enough that the likelihood of catching people now is close to nil.

      Further, most of the “investigations” were being done by those who would have committed the fraud, and consisted of asking them “did you commit election fraud?” They ASSURED us that there was no fraud, and of course why would those accused of a crime lie? I mean besides those inconvenient security videos from Fulton county that showed the fraud of course, we don’t have proof. Tell everyone you’re done counting ballots. Send the poll watchers home, pretend to go home, and then come back after everyone is gone, pull out absentee ballots that you had hidden onsite earlier in the day and then process them for another 3 hours. Strangely they were all for Biden! Imagine that! Nothing suspicious at all!

      They’re still fighting the Maricopa county election audit and refusing to turn over the routers that would indicate what internet traffic took place that day accessing the voting machines, and Dominion refuses to grant the auditors administrator access to the voting machines.

      After 5 years of the debunked Russian Collusion conspiracy theory and screaming that Trump wasn’t the legitimate President, Democrats and RINO’s “fortified the election” to ensure Trump would not be re-elected. Time magazine even admitted that there was a “Cabal” of people from Big Tech and all levels of Government in on this conspiracy.

      If on the eve of the most contentious election in 100 years you change the rules to make cheating easier, I have to assume you intend to cheat.
      Sworn affidavits to election irregularities and almost no investigation into them, poll watchers ejected and forced to be more than 80 feet away. Poll workers blocking windows out so no one can see in. Banning anyone posting video of these irregularities (people showing up in the dead of night with reams of ballots, counting occurring in the dead of night without pill watchers when there was supposed to be no further counting, lying about “burst pipes” as a pretext for ejecting everyone) and silencing anyone who dared say that where there’s smoke there’s fire..

      If you wanted the opposition to believe that it was free and fair you would have changed no rules, abided by the rules both letter and spirit and made sure that it was all above board and transparent. Y’know, the opposite of what was done.

  6. Lake County Examiner, Lakeview, Oregon: Wednesday, February 10th, 2015/Letters To The Editor
    Gun Lesson

    Introduced jointly in 1935 by Smith and Wesson and Winchester, the .357 Magnum, originally designed by Major Doug Wesson, Phil Sharpe: a ballistician, and gun scribe writer Elmer Keith, is now 80.

    The .357 Magnum, and it’s parent caliber the .38 Special, were formerly the quintessential law enforcement handgun of the 20th century. Since mass conversion from revolvers to semi-automatic pistols commenced in the late 1980’s/ early 1990’s, revolvers seldom appear in cop’s holsters. However, the historic revolver remains laudable.

    Both .38 Special and .357 Magnum revolvers continue to offer versatility for autonomous citizens, including the individual owning one handgun. .38’s and .357’s remain ideal for self defense/ house protection/ concealed carry, and likewise for the great outdoors. Even the .44 Magnum, introduced in 1956, especially in Alaska.

    Classic Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum revolvers included the K-Frame S&W Model 19 and 66 “stainless” .357 Combat Magnum revolvers, and the two heavier N-Frame .357 Magnums: the S&W Model 27 and 28 Highway Patrolman, respectively. Other classic .357 Magnum revolvers, though now discontinued from production, were the Colt Python (the Cadillac of .357’s), Colt’s Trooper Mark III, and Ruger’s Security Six and Blackhawk single action revolver.

    View online “hickok45” and “Larry Vickers and Magnum Revolvers.” Also, “The War on Guns” via http://www.DavidCodrea.com. No. A person owning only a .38 Special or .357 Magnum revolver remains well protected, armed, and secured.

    Remember: No substitute exists for accuracy, reliability, versatility, and safety. With the revolver it’s still “six shots for sure!”

    James A. Farmer, Ashland
    Effective October 2016 a resident of Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County)
    Long Live The State of Jefferson!

  7. I’d gladly add any of those to my safe, especially the Smith. My 2.5″ and 3″ K-frames need the company.

  8. Lake County Examiner, Lakeview, Oregon: Wednedsday, March 23, 2021/Letters To The Editor
    Best general purpose handgun

    For a general purpose handgun consider Ruger’s SP-101 .357 Magnum revolver: “stainless steel”, 5 shot swing out cylinder (double-action), with 4.2” barrel and target sights for the citizen owning only one handgun.

    Versatile for “self-defense/house protection/concealed carry”, as a kit and trail gun for the outdoorsman/ sportsman, and for urban metro vs. wilderness rural use. At 30 oz. unloaded lightweight (for the hiker, backpacker, trapper), yet heavy enough to handle the .357 Magnum.

    Loaded with .38 Special 148 grain lead target wad-cutter ammo (next to a .22 or .32) practical for hunting small game: rabbit, squirrel, and grouse (for the campfire skillet), for dispatching vermin such as raccoon, skunk, possum, etc. Even for butchering livestock such as cattle with a head shot.

    Loaded with CCI’s classic .38 Special shot or snake load of No. 9 shot highly effective in killing rattlesnakes. Readily and instantly accessible in reach via a nightstand, dresser or bureau drawer, or next to a sleeping bag inside a tent is very comforting armed security to have, especially at night!

    This handgun would also be great for a long haul trucker, or hay hauler, to carry. Even for the motorist traveling on a road trip. Yes, bear in mind being broken down, stranded, and having to spend the night alone in your vehicle. This .38/.357 revolver combination along with an Atomic Beam Flashlight, survival knife, fresh drinking water, food, toilet paper, shovel ,matches, wool blanket, etc. could certainly take back the night.

    Even for a woman it’s smaller frame and size would still fit her smaller hands. And firing.38 Special ammo in this .357 Magnum could still be handled by a female. Double action revolvers can be improved with aftermarket combat rubber grips.

    I recommend reading, “Meet Ruger’s SP-101 Revolver: The Ideal Gun For Self Defense”, by Kyle Mizokan via the April 2019 issue of The National Interest.

    James A. Farmer, Merrill

  9. My first personal-buy revolvers for police work from 1978 through 1982 were a Ruger security 6 and a service 6: two weapons I wish I still had.

  10. There’s a maverick Firebird in that herd of FHP Mustangs…
    Fox Body Special Service Package (SSP) 5.0 Mustangs, that is. Looks like that Bandit is a Smokey.

    Lots of old school cool on display in this post, Luis.

  11. Luis, FHP issued 4″ nickel Pythons before going to the Beretta 92. I did meet one who carried a 6″ nickel Python. He carried those Teflon coated AP rounds in it. Forget the mfg. Don’t know how he managed that. But, that was the past. They do things differently there. They carried them cross draw in patent leather. I met many troopers working at my uncle’s service station off I-10 in the ’70s.

  12. I never cared for the MKIII. The model 19 was fine but in Magnum loads it was a bit fragile. I tried the Service Six from Ruger and liked it. Most importantly the reloading manuals back in the day had separate pages for max loads in the .357. The Colt and Smith had lower max loadings and the Ruger/Contender page had big warnings not to use these max loads in Colts or Smiths.

    As I was new to reloading I liked the extra safety factor.

  13. -BREAKING-

    Miller v. Becerra – CA ‘assaulty-weapon’ ban found UNCONSTITUTIONAL by Benitez! 😉

    Source, YouTube ‘Armed Scholar’.

    • Update – Benitez put a 30-day stay on his ruling…

  14. My first centerfire revolver was a model 28.

    Paid 189.00 in Lucedale, MS in 1976 at True Value Hardware.

    Smiths were hard to find and I got tired of waiting for a model 27 or 19.

    The highway patrolman I knew carried model 27s. They switched to model 66s a few years later.

    I’d rather carry a K frame and shoot an N frame. 6 inch barrel squeezes top performance from 357.

  15. They all look like great guns for open carry!!! That S&W performance center 8 shot 357 felt really good in my hands. When I found it three years ago. But it was just too much money for me to pay for it.

  16. ‘…like the mythical Phoenix itself.’ – The Phoenix, aka heraldic eagle was Alexander Sturm’s creation. He was the money man in Sturm, Ruger & Co. He died in 1951 of viral hepatitis at the ripe old age of 28 and Bill Ruger had the red eagle changed to black to memorialize his partner. His wife died 6 years later from an overdose of sleeping pills.

    • Yep….the choice of weapons in the small PD I helped convert to “wonder nines” the choices were 1911s, S&W 19s and Colts (a couple of versions). Nearly all carried 1911s…most were veterans….

  17. The CHP officer in the picture is most likely carrying an S&W Model 68 in .38 Special.
    Issue guns of the time were the 67 (4″) and 68 (6″).

    After Gov. Moonbeam left office (the 1st time), many officers switched to the 586 or 686.

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