Smith & Wesson Performance Center® Model 325 Thunder Ranch 45 ACP Sixgun

by Boge Quinn

photography by Boge Quinn

March 28th, 2020 Video Link


Click pictures for a larger version.





Barrel is a two-piece shrouded configuration.



Stainless steel plate mounted above the barrel / cylinder gap prevents flame-cutting of the frame.





Ball detent at the face of the cylinder crane assists in securely locking the cylinder.




Top of frame is drilled & tapped underneath the rear sight for scope mount.






I have a thing for 45 ACP revolvers. 

Having a great love for the 45 Colt cartridge, owning revolvers that also fire the 45 ACP cartridge just makes sense to me; therefore, I own a good number of revolvers, both Single-Action and Double-Action, which are setup to fire both cartridges. I also have a good number of revolvers, both Single-Action and Double-Action, which are made to fire the 45 ACP cartridge only. Several of these are antiques which were made by Smith & Wesson: original Military-issue and Civilian Model 1917s, a "1937 Brazilian Contract" Model 1917, and even a 2nd Model Hand Ejector rechambered to 45 ACP from its original 455 Eley. 45 ACP sixguns remain practical defensive handguns and professional-grade target handguns, as well as viable hunting handguns, and are just loads of fun for target / plinking applications. 45 ACP ammo is relatively cheap and plentiful in its factory loadings, as well as relatively cheap and easy to reload, which makes it an even more practical choice for fun shooting, competitive practice, or serious training.

There have never been a great many models of sixguns chambered exclusively for the wonderful 45 ACP cartridge, but Smith & Wesson has seemingly always kept some in their catalog. Now S&W offers a truly modern defensive-capable sixgun in their Model 325 Thunder Ranch, which is available from the Smith & Wesson Performance Center®.

The Model 325 Thunder Ranch is a truly modern defensive sixgun largely because of the materials used in its construction. Built on the Magnum-size "N" Frame with "Round Butt" grip configuration, the frame of the 325, as indicated by the "3" series designation, is of lightweight Scandium alloy. Scandium is lighter in weight than steel, while stronger and with a much higher melting point than aluminum; thus, Scandium is a logical choice for lower-stressed areas of firearms, such as frames, where weight savings is desired. One area of concern when using Scandium or aluminum alloys for revolver frames is the possibility of flame-cutting at the top of the frame above the barrel / cylinder gap; this has been addressed by S&W with a stainless steel plate mounted above the barrel underneath the top strap in the cylinder window, effectively eliminating this potential problem. The barrel and cylinder of the Model 325 are made of stainless steel, which is a long-proven material for strength and corrosion resistance. The use of this combination of materials in the Model 325 allows for both strength and light weight, which are the most desirable properties in a sixgun intended for defensive carry.

The modern materials used in the Model 325 Thunder Ranch are combined with modern design features such as a two-piece shrouded barrel system and synthetic pebble-finish Hogue Monogrip. Another slick design feature which enhances the strength of the Model 325 is S&W's use of a ball detent lockup at the front of the cylinder crane, in addition to the traditional lockup at the rear of the cylinder. The barrel's materials, along with its profile and 4" length, makes the lightweight Model 325 balance perfectly in the shooter's hand. The barrel length and the light weight of the Model 325 also make the sixgun as easy to conceal as an N-Frame can be.

The 325's modernity is further reflected in its aesthetics. While the appearance of the 325 Thunder Ranch, namely the barrel profile, will not appeal to all shooters, I find the appearance of the sixgun to be quite pleasing. I am very much a traditionalist at heart, and as such many of the Performance Center's offerings leave me cold, but the 325 Thunder Ranch does not go so far aesthetically that it fails to appeal to my eye. 

As mentioned, the grip frame of the 325 Thunder Ranch is of the "Round Butt" configuration, with the factory-supplied Hogue Monogrip being of the "Square Butt Conversion" design. I find this very appealing, even though the "classic" S&W N-Frame sixguns were of the "Square Butt" configuration, because of the versatility of grip designs offered by the Round Butt frame. If desired, N-Frame Round Butt grips will fit perfectly and reduce the size of the grip for shooters with smaller hands or those who find the smaller Round Butt grips easier to conceal, while a good variety of Square Butt Conversion grips of varying designs and materials will just as readily fit. This offers the best of both worlds of grip design, and greatly increases the versatility of the 325 Thunder Ranch.

The sights of the 325 Thunder Ranch consist of S&W's familiar and excellent adjustable rear sight, coupled with an interchangeable blade front sight with gold bead. This sight combination offers a very precise sight picture, due to the square notch in the 325's rear sight (as opposed to the V-notch rear sight blade commonly paired with gold-bead front sights) while still affording the speed and quick acquisition of the gold-bead sight. If the user wishes a different front sight or rear blade configuration, replacements are readily available and easily changed. If the user wishes to mount a scope, the top of the frame is drilled and tapped for a scope mount once the rear sight is removed.

If a laser sight is desired, there are a couple of options available. The grips can be changed out for a set of Crimson Trace Lasergrips, or a rail-mounted laser, such as Crimson Trace's Rail Master, can be mounted underneath the barrel using the rail mount supplied with the 325 Thunder Ranch. This rail mount can also be used for mounting a weapon light, if desired.

One design feature of the Model 325 Thunder Ranch, which is common to almost all S&W revolvers these days, is the S&W Internal Key Lock. I know some shooters who absolutely hate the Lock, and will not buy any S&W product which sports the Lock; this is unfortunate for them, as they are allowing what is mostly an irrational and unfounded bias against the Locks to preclude them from acquiring some truly fine sixguns. I know of no one who really LIKES the Lock, but I know many shooters who, like myself, tolerate the Lock. I referred to the bias against the lock as "mostly irrational and unfounded" because of the horror stories I have heard of the Locks engaging at the most inopportune moments. I do know of a handful of cases, and have personally witnessed one case,  where the Locks have prematurely engaged, thus rendering the sixgun inoperative; they all involved the same model, the Model 329PD 44 Magnum, firing the heaviest loads available. In the one case I witnessed, I was unable to repeat the failure firing the same 329PD myself using the same loads, but it appears that the lightweight Scandium frame, coupled with Magnum pressures, can on very rare occasions cause the Lock to engage. I find this to be of no concern on other models such as the 325 Thunder Ranch, but for those who get nervous about such things, or for those who just don't like the look of the "Hillary Hole", there are Lock Delete kits available and easily installed. No matter of how one feels about the Locks, they are not going away any time soon; once a "safety feature" has been introduced into our increasingly litigious society, it is extremely unlikely to be removed, regardless of its efficacy.

In Single-Action 45 ACP sixguns, the cartridge headspaces on the case mouth, as it does in Semi-Auto pistols. Adding to the efficiency and versatility of Double-Action 45 ACP sixguns is their ability to use 45 Auto Rim ammunition without moon clips. The 45 Auto Rim cartridge was developed a hundred years ago for just this purpose: so that the Double-Action 45 ACP sixguns which were produced in such great numbers during The Great War could be used without the need for cartridge clips (either the 6-round capacity moon clips or the 3-round capacity half-moon clips). The 45 Auto Rim is just as its name indicates. The 45 ACP is a "rimless" cartridge (which is not actually rimless, but has a rim of the same diameter as the case, and which serves only as an extractor groove while the cartridge headspaces on the case mouth). The 45 Auto Rim cartridge has a rim at the base, with the cartridge headspacing on the case rim as in most rimmed cartridges; the 45 Auto Rim's case rim is thicker than standard case rims to equate the thicknesses of both the 45 ACP rim and the cartridge clips, so that proper headspacing is maintained between the cylinder and the frame. My dear departed friend Terry Murbach turned me on to the wonders of the 45 Auto Rim cartridge many years ago, and its use only increases the versatility and fun of Double-Action 45 ACP sixguns.

45 Auto Rim ammunition is by no means common, nor as inexpensive as 45 ACP ammunition, but there are still several manufacturers who make it, and availability is not a problem. Tim Sundles offers his excellent Buffalo Bore ammo in both Standard-Pressure and +P loadings; their ammo is consistently some of the finest available anywhere, but I had none available to me during the course of testing. Much of my favorite ammo comes from Mike McNett at Double Tap Ammo, and their 45 Auto Rim ammo is no exception: Double Tap's 230-grain Target Ball loading is accurate, and at an advertised 900 FPS, it is soft-shooting enough so that neither the sixgun for the shooter is beaten-up in the process.

Specifications of the Smith & Wesson Performance Center® Model 325 Thunder Ranch are as follows:

SKU 170316
Caliber 45 ACP / 45 Auto Rim
Capacity 6
Action Single / Double Action
Trigger Pull DA 9.2 pounds
Trigger Pull SA 3.8 pounds
Barrel Length 4 inches
Overall Length 9.5 inches
Weight, Unloaded 30.5 ounces
Rear Sight Adjustable
Front Sight Interchangeable Gold Bead
Frame Material Scandium Alloy
Cylinder Material Stainless Steel
Barrel Material Stainless Steel
Finish Matte Black
Performance Center® Features • PC Trigger with Trigger Stop
• PC Tuned Action
• Scandium Frame
• Thunder Ranch Gun Rug and Defensive Revolver DVD
• Moon Clips Included
MSRP as of March 2020 $1,340.00 US

Shooting the 325 Thunder Ranch was a pleasure, both with the 45 Auto Rim and the stouter 45 ACP loads used. Out of the box, the sights were regulated perfectly to standard-velocity 230-grain loads, and the 325 was impressively accurate for punching nice little groups in paper, ringing steel, and plinking at targets of opportunity.

Smith & Wesson has more than a century-long tradition of crafting the finest 45 ACP sixguns available. The Smith & Wesson Performance Center® Model 325 Thunder Ranch is a thoroughly modern version of these time-proven sixguns, and is a more than worthy successor to S&W's long line of 45 ACP revolvers.

Check out the Model 325 Thunder Ranch and other Smith & Wesson Performance Center® products at:

Find a dealer near you with Lipsey's DEALER FINDER:

Order Online with the GUN GENIE at Davidson's Gallery of Guns:

Buy quality ammo at competitive prices at Lucky Gunner:

Buffalo Bore ammo:

Crimson Trace laser sights:

Hogue Grips:

Clint Smith's Thunder Ranch:

Double Tap Ammo:

Federal Ammo:

Boge Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.





Model 325 Thunder ranch comes with cardboard box, instruction manual, registration card, cable lock, Thunder Ranch branded soft padded carrying case, S&W / Thunder Ranch "Defensive Revolver" DVD, under-barrel rail mount, moon clips, and key for S&W's internal lock.



S&W's internal lock mechanism prevents the sixgun from being fired when engaged.





Cartridge comparison: 45 ACP (left), 45 Auto Rim (right).



Federal 45 ACP 230-grain JHP load (top), Double Tap 45 Auto Rim 230-grain Ball load (center & bottom).