Revisiting the Smith & Wesson Heritage Model 24


by Mike Cumpston

Photography by Mike Cumpston

October 4th, 2005




In the Spring of 2001, Lew Horton Distributors and the Smith and Wesson Performance Center announced the Heritage Series.  This consisted of a wide assortment of anachronistically styled hand-ejector revolvers, and a couple of divergences including a version of the old .38 Combat Masterpiece as well as one of the late 19th Century break-top revolvers.  The first entry into the field was a .44 Special with the full Doug Turnbull color-case and blue finish on top of some very superior metal work and polishing by the Performance Center.   Even before the Lew Horton series, there was a blue.45 Colt Model 25 "Hand-Ejector" and a Model 10 with the parti-colored treatment.  Some observers include these earlier, limited edition revolvers in the Heritage Series and, given the similarities in style, this seems to be a reasonable interpretation.  Now, in October 2005, the remnants of the series still appear on the Horton web page ( and include the Model 15 Combat Masterpiece, the Ed McGivern K-Frame and a couple of variations on the K-22.  The large framed revolvers have been sold off to various distributors and both Horton and Smith and Wesson have moved on to other projects.

The overall concept and each of the features of this series met with a very polarized public response. Some potential buyers loved every single thing about the series while others hated them with equal intensity. "I'm sorry, but that's the butt-ugliest gun I've ever seen" cried a post from the Smith and Wesson Forum.  One gun magazine appointed the color case/blue Model 25 in .45 Colt the title of " Handgun of the Year" while other publications merely mentioned or else soundly ignored the series. The politics of the moment were not auspicious for healthy marketing. The powers of darkness were feverishly genuflecting before the ghost of Karl Marx, S&W was owned by an Internationalist conglomerate based in England and Smith & Wesson, to avoid being sued into oblivion, had hastily entered into a devil's compact with the Clinton Administration.  The gun-buying public was not happy about any of the above.

My personal Model 24 was among the first to arrive at the Lew Horton concern.  A secondary number series seems to put it at number 130 of the first 150 with total numbers of the Blue/Case hardened variety eventually reaching 308.  Fit and finish were flawless and the revolver emerged as a true mechanical marvel.  Like many new revolvers, initial cycling was less than optimal.  Carry up on each of the chambers was a little different making for a heavy 4.5 pound, variable trigger pull.  This is no bad thing as a modicum of cycling and firing allows all the parts to seat to perfection.  After a couple of hundred rounds, the 24 became as smooth and well timed as any revolver can be.  The trigger pull settled in at 3.5 pounds and I further reduced it by another pound by judiciously shortening of the trigger return spring. 

I temporarily mounted an electronic dot sight on the 24 and shot a series of one inch (and under) 25-yard bench groups. At the onset, I had visions of outrageously fine off-hand accuracy and in fact, did produce some very nice targets from the 6.5"-barrel. My interest in this type of shooting is shared by almost none of the revolver shooters of the past two generations.  Nevertheless, "normal" is only the second half of a word - the first half being "dull". I like to shoot one-handed and so, I do.   Even with the small, round-butt grips, some of my initial slow -fire one-handed groups rivaled those of my K-22s - particularly when I was using loads that only slightly exceeded the factory .44 Special RNL loading.  Nevertheless, the thin lightweight barrel lacks the confidence-building steadiness of the more modern ramped and lugged 6- 8 3/8" N-Frames. This makes the trigger pull seem heavier than the actual weight.  Over time-and with various more hand filling grips, I still find that I tend to pitch the occasional round out of an otherwise satisfying off-hand string. 

Traditional Factory Level Loads and High performance Handload

Factory Remington 246 RN 669 fps 245 fpe
Factory W-W 246 RN 719fps 282 fpe
Lee250 RN - 4 grains Bullseye 764fps 324 fpe
Keith 250 - 6 grains Alliant Unique 754 fps 313 fpe
Keith 250 -7 grains Hercules (old) Unique 929fps479 fpe



New Tech Anti-Personnel and Utility Loads


Cor-Bon 165 1364 fps / 586fpe 159 gain over 4" Model 29
PMC 180 901 fps / 325fpe 38 gain over 4" Model 29
Speer Gold Dot 200 872 fps / 338fpe 39 gain over 4" Model 29
W-W Silvertip200 782 fps / 272fpe 39 gain over 4" Model 29
Federal LHP 200 927 fps / 381fpe 76 gain over 4" Model 29


With the standard, frame-sized round butt grips, shooting the 24 much resembles the sensation of shooting early hand ejectors like the .38 M&P - the ones with round butt frames or those with the pre-WWII service stocks.  The set of full-sized "target" grips as issued on some of the Heritage Series 44 Magnums change the overall feel of the revolver. They do not quite make it the equal of a target stocked 8-3/8" Model 29-2 when it comes to landing rounds in the center of the black with total and predictable repeatability.  With the more accepted practice of shooting from a two handed grip and Isosceles stance, the whippy barrel takes on lesser significance and practical shooting in the single and double-action modes improves in a fairly dramatic way.  The Model 24 becomes a reliable center-mass driller and rabbit-killer.


Front Sight: This is a very high Patridge sight with a "gold" bead mounted on the visible face. Due to the lack of a sighting rib, it looks overly tall - somewhat reminiscent of some of the target-sighted revolvers of the 1930s but prompting one critic to say, "Whattaya gonna do? Hide behind the front sight?"  It would, perhaps be more visually pleasing with a thin rib and the extra weight would add to steadiness.  The gold bead can produce solar flares in bright sunlight but is often the saving point of the sight picture when the contrast is low. 

The Barrel: As noted, it is as skinny as the first Hand Ejectors that came along at the crux of the 19th and 20th centuries.  It has a pronounced retro effect as intended. The ejector rod is enclosed by a short under-lug sans locking bolt.  On this particular Heritage revolver, the crane lock is a spring-loaded ball bearing that impinges a hole in the back of the shroud.  This arrangement seems to be working on the newer X-frame revolvers and affords a strong two-point, fore and aft locking system for this revolver.

The Frame is nicely shaped - rounded at the top and mating esthetically with the barrel. It has a rib running upward between the cylinder opening and the cylinder latch. This item is variously explained as adding strength to the frame or being a cheaper way of retaining the open cylinder. The first interpretation seems to suit the S&W Marketing people, while the second is quite pleasing to grumpy, aging revolver enthusiasts (are there any other kind?) 

The Hammer: Like many of the Performance Center offerings, it is the "tear-drop" design.

The Trigger: This is the modern smooth "Combat" trigger - a legacy of the gun writers who foisted it off just before switching over to auto-pistols.  My off-hand groups (and my double action strings) would improve markedly if it had the old wide-grooved target trigger of the early .44 Magnums.  The trigger has a stop threaded into the back to prevent over-travel.

The Grip/Grip Frame:  It's of the modern round-butt variety - a source of moderate to high irritation for traditional revolver shooters.  The grips supplied are small and frame-fitting, nicely checkered and having pronounced mineral streaks.  The finish is a very rich deep reddish brown.  This set-up is quite usable - particularly with target velocity loads.  With slightly heavier loads, the exposed frame top smacks the web of my hand with resounding unpleasantness.

After the Heritage Series ran its course, some of the larger round-to-square butt target stocks appeared on the Smith web page.  They are nicely cut, fitted and checkered, figured walnut.  They are narrow at the top and taper toward the bottom and would be more useful if they tapered in the opposite direction or retained the profile of the old N-Frame Target stocks held in low esteem by the pre-semi-auto combat "experts". While nicely cut, this set of Altamont-made grips displayed a sickly gray caste in bright sunlight and had been finished with a thin application of something like spray lacquer.  I abraded the surface enough to retain stain and overlaid the grips with a few coats of Tru-Oil.  This stuff is actually a light varnish and sticks very well to the modern Jiminy Cricket, who-gives-a-flip wood treatments.  This treatment brought out the underlying richness of the grips.  The target grips wrought a substantial change to the profile and handling characteristics of the revolver.

The Heritage series predates the current ownership of the Smith &Wesson Company and likewise - the current and much-despised key-lock.  It came in during the transition to Metal Injection Molded lock work and retains the traditional pre-MIM hammer and trigger.

Smith and Wesson advertising from the 1930s and '40s emphasized the satisfaction inherent in marksmanship practice with the large bore .44 revolvers.  The .44 Special, the direct heir of .44 Russian continued the heritage of the target revolvers popular in the late 19th Century.  Performance from the longer Special case was virtually identical that that of the Russian chambering - 'though it is likely that the general shooting public considered it a ballistic improvement.  While the Heritage 24 is certainly strong enough to handle the more powerful loads that made the Special so appealing to the upper crust of handgun hunters and experimenters, the grip options true to the Series do transmit recoil from these heavier loads most unpleasantly.  For pleasure shooting and personal challenge, I prefer loads that approximate the original performance parameters of the .44 Special or the more modern factory loads primarily intended for the current, short barreled concealment revolvers. So loaded, the Heritage Model 24 is an interesting blend of the traditional and modern and a welcome, if offbeat, addition to my modest stable of working revolvers.

The Heritage 24 retailed for $1100. My distributor provided me with one at $100 under the list price.  Almost immediately, examples of the other 307 revolvers and the all-blue variation of the 24 began appearing on the gun auction sites at one to three hundred dollars less than I had paid.  Buyers looking for short-term capitol gains were sorely disappointed and only the passage of time will reveal whether or not those pristine, boxed revolvers will ever turn a profit for their owners.  Shortsighted owners like me are just shooting them - doing our part to make the unfired ones even rarer and potentially more valuable.


Mike Cumpston


NOTE: All load data posted on this web site are for educational purposes only. Neither the author nor assume any responsibility for the use or misuse of this data. The data indicated were arrived at using specialized equipment under conditions not necessarily comparable to those encountered by the potential user of this data.  Always use data from respected loading manuals and begin working up loads at least 10% below the loads indicated in the source manual.


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Click pictures for a larger version.


The Heritage Model 24 was a  joint project of  Lew Horton Distributors and the Smith and Wesson Performance Center.  The color case and blue requires special care - the Bianchi Law Man Holster is lined and protects the finish reasonably well. Other Heritage Series finish options include overall blue and nickel electroplate.  

 The four screw frame with the big screw at top survived the Heritage Series and appears on various retro offerings from the Performance center.



The Model 24 is accurate enough for precision shooting.  Its features combine to make it less forgiving of shooter error than more modern designs.



I've used the Model 24 to explore the factory velocity level loads and hand loads that have been around through the near-100 year history of the cartridge.  Here, I recorded velocities with two variations of Alliant Unique and some decades- old Hercules Unique recovered from old reloads.  The bullet is the standard 246 grain round nose cast from an old single cavity Ideal mould.



These composite mystery grips are thicker than the Heritage Series variations and are more suited to off-hand shooting.



The Lyman round nosed bullet over 4 grains of Bullseye closely duplicates chronographed velocities of modern Winchester-Western and Remington Factory Loads.   Nominal velocity for the original black powder and smokeless loads was 755 fps.  Most handbooks loads thought to duplicate the factory load reach that level of velocity and are significantly more powerful than current 246 grain factory ammunition.



Another traditional .44 Special Handload.



The Performance Center Logo.  The elongated cylinder stop had been explained as a means of adding strength to the hand ejector frames.  Agnostic Smith and Wesson traditionalists say that the real reason is that it is a cheaper way of adding a cylinder stop to the frame.  Maybe they're both right.



Normal people long ago adopted the two hand hold for their revolver shooting.  Here the long sighting radius of the six and a  half inch barrel really comes into play.



This old Lyman long wadcutter and the flush seated wadcutters from Lee moulds can be quite accurate when loaded light. The groups spread out as velocities increase-possibly because of the tiny lube grooves on both bullets.



The .44 Special came out in 1908 as a black powder load - a fact loudly denied by some Internet gun experts.  Early ammunition is seldom seen and I was surprised to find that the standard weighted round nosed bullet was encased in a cupro-nickel jacket.



The Cor-Bon 165 grain JHP is  a personal protection load advertised to provide 1150 fps from a 3" revolver barrel.  From the 6.5" barrel of the Heritage model, it actually out-performs the magnum version of the load as fired from a 4" Model 29.