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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Smith & Wesson Model 13: The FBI’s 357 Magnum Revolver

Alas, the Model 13 went out of production in 1998 whilst the M19 and M66 are still listed in the online catalog. Luckily though, there are still plenty of ‘13s available on the used gun market.

Model 13. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Model 13. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The Smith & Wesson Model 13 was but an “honorable mention” in the “Cannon Or Gun? Meet The Top 5 .357 Magnum Handguns On Planet Earth” round-up 19FortyFive just wrote up.

Higher up in the top five were the Smith & Wesson Model 19 and Model 66 together (the latter is the stainless steel version of the former).

Now it’s time to take a closer look at the K-frame (medium-frame) handgun that was worthy of the list, but didn’t quite make the cut. 

Alas, that’s not really fair to the M13, as it did every bit as much to “make” the .357 Magnum cartridge a “mainstream” caliber for police and armed private citizen usage due to its practical size compared with the behemoth size of the original .357 Mag firearm, the Smith Model 27. Now then, time to give the Smith Model 13 her due, especially considering she was the gun of choice of none other than the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who issued the gun to its Special Agents from 1981 to 1991. 

Lucky #13? Smith & Wesson Model 13 History & Specifications

The S&W Model 13 double-action (DA) revolver made its debut in 1974. It was essentially a heavy-barreled .357 Magnum of the manufacturer’s Model 10/Military and Police .38 Special that had arrived on-scene back in 1899. It came with a blued finish, a 3- or 4-inch barrel, the typical revolver ammo capacity of 6 rounds (as opposed to Smith’s 5-round J-frame snubbies), a choice of round-butt or square-butt, and a weight of 31 ounces.

The Model 13 turned out to be the last wheelgun to serve as standard issue for the FBI before the Bureau fully transitioned to semiautomatic pistols. Specifically they used the 3-incher with the round butt. Most agents stoked their guns with the so-called “FBI Load,” i.e. the .38 Special 158-grain +P lead semiwadcutter hollowpoint (LSWCHP), but were allowed the option of upgrading to the Winchester Silvertip 145-grain Magnum load as long as they could still qualify with it. 

Other big-name users included the New York State Police and the Arms Issued Officers of Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Meanwhile, Oklahoma Highway Patrol issued the stainless steel version of the M13, the Model 65.

A Professional’s Shooting Impressions

“Aaron C” of Epic Tactical & Survival wrote this about his 1970s vintage Model 13 in a June 2016 article

“This pistol feels amazing in my hand. The weight of this pistol is about 2.19lbs unloaded. The felt recoil is almost non-existent with the factory wood grips. Even loaded with 38 Special, I can see why this was a weapon of choice for most departments in the 1970s. The accuracy is incredible for an approx. 40yr old pistol. I’m shooting 8″ steel targets with ease. The downside, I do not have any speed loaders for this pistol. Loading bullets one by one is okay for the range, but I really do need to invest in some speed loaders.”

“Hello, Clarisse…”

The Model 13 has appeared in its fair share of movies and TV series, from “The Sopranos” to “Criminal Minds” to “Airplane II: The Sequel” to “No Country for Old Men.” But arguably the gun’s most significant moment of Tinseltown fame was in the 1991 classic “Silence of the Lambs,” wherein (Spoiler Alert!) the heroin, FBI Special Agent Clarisse Starling (Jodie Foster) uses her agency-issued M13 to blow away the main bad guy, Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb.

Let your minds consume that nugget of food for thought next time to decide to “have an old friend for dinner” … especially if “liver with fava beans and a nice chianti” is on the menu.

Want Your Own?

Alas, the Model 13 went out of production in 1998 whilst the M19 and M66 are still listed in the online catalog. Luckily though, there are still plenty of ‘13s available on the used gun market. True Gun Value states that “A SMITH & WESSON MODEL 13 pistol is currently worth an average price of $781.67 new and $742.25 used. The 12-month average price is $781.67 new and $768.70 used.” 

Guns International has a total of 17 specimens currently listed for sale, starting at $749.99 and topping off at a whopping $6,999.99! The latter gun has the following description to justify the hefty price tag: “Appears as new, with presentation case, documents and supporting paper. S&W Model 13-1 revolver, 4″ heavy barrel, custom grips and stunning fit and finish. Materfully [sic] crafted by Paul Piquette, full engraving over frame, cylinder, barrel and trigger guard. .357 Magnum.”

Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  

NOTE: This piece has been updated with new video and imagery since publication. 

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).