New Smith & Wesson Model 22

Another Thunder Ranch Edition Now in .45 ACP


by William Bell

Photography by William Bell

January 3rd, 2007




I have always been fond of the Smith & Wesson (S&W) large N-frame revolver.  My first centerfire six-gun was a S&W Model 28 Highway Patrolman in .357 Magnum and since that time I have owned several dozen of the N-frame model revolvers.  If I scrounged through my gun safe right now I know I would find at least six off the top of my head that are some of my most often-used handguns.  The N-frame is the workhorse of the S&W line and has been chambered for all the big-bore, high pressure cartridges developed in the 20th Century.  The N-frame was originally developed in 1905 for the .44 Special revolver that came to be know as the .44 Triple Lock, or more formally as the .44 Hand-Ejector (First Model).  When the United States became involved in WWI our armed forces were short on small arms, especially the newly adopted Colt Model 1911 semi-automatic pistol in .45 ACP.  Smith & Wesson helped fill the shortage of handguns by chambering the .44 frame revolver to .45 ACP and it became known as the Model 1917.  As time went on the N-frame was modified and chamber for the .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum and .41 Magnum cartridges.

The S&W N-frame has gained a reputation as a fighting handgun and I have always favored it in the non-Magnum big-bore calibers like the .44 Special, .45 ACP and .45 Colt or “Long Colt” if you prefer.  I was very pleased to see around two years ago a Performance Center Edition of the .44 Special N-frames made for Thunder Ranch owner/operator Clint Smith.  This revolver harked back to the N-frames of the pre-WWII era with the graceful tapered barrel and fixed sights.  For 2006 Clint has gone one better and had a new Thunder Ranch Smith made up, this time in .45 ACP, but with a real N-frame similar to the original.  This was not possible with the .44 Special version as for a number of years S&W has been using a standard-size K-frame, round-butt style grip frame on all their revolvers, but Smith will be making a 50th Anniversary Model 29 and for this they needed a true N-frame.  Clint Smith saw this was coming and held out for his Thunder Ranch .45 ACP to be made with the same frame as the .44 Magnum commemorative.

I saw one of these new Model 22 Thunder Ranch revolvers at the 2006 SHOT Show and had one sent to me as soon as it was available.  The revolver came packaged in a very useful ballistic nylon carrying case emblazoned with the embroidered Thunder Ranch logo.  Inside were some half-moon clips and a security padlock, plus the usual printed material.  The Model 22 is done up in a really nice polished blue finish, accented by beautifully figured African Cocobolo grips, with a laser-cut Thunder Ranch logo and checkered panels.  These grips are what S&W used to call the “Magna” style and basically followed the lines of the grip frame with the wood coming up over the frame at the rear to form “ears” that helped spread out the surface area a bit to help reduce recoil discomfort.

This revolver is not an exact replica of the Model 1917 or of the commercial .45 Hand Ejector, as it has a shrouded ejector rod, which these guns did not.  It is more like a hybrid of the .45 Hand Ejector Model of 1950 Target, but with fixed rather than adjustable sights.  In fact the left side of the barrel is stamped .45 Cal. Model 1950.  It is a mixture of the old and the new as it had an original-looking cylinder release latch, but also has the latest S&W improvements like the integral cylinder stop, frame-mounted firing pin and internal safety lock.  The front sight is circular-shaped and pinned to a sloping ramp integral to the barrel.  Unlike the older sights, it is a full 1/8” in width and is matte finished to reduce glare.  The fixed rear sight has a wide square-shaped notch which sits inside a trough on the top strap.  Another “oldie” feature is the side-plate on the right side of the frame that is held in place with 4 screws, just like in the good ol’ days.

A couple of other items that make this gun useful as a combat handgun are the medium width trigger with the smooth face; something I definitely prefer over narrow triggers with serrated faces or even wide serrated triggers.  The hammer spur is also wider than what you will find on the service-grade Smiths of years past and it is a compromise as it is midway between a service type and a target-style hammer.  The single-action trigger pull, by the way, on this gun is pure S&W; it has a weight of about 4 pounds and breaks as crisply as snapping a glass rod.  In contrast the double-action pull is smooth but rather heavy and runs around 11-12 pounds.  Timing is good, but I’m already getting a slight wear ring between the bolt notches on the cylinder.

A very useful item for this gun if you want to keep it looking “period” but still improve the handling performance is a Tyler T-Grip Adapter.  This solid aluminum gadget fits onto the front strap of the grip frame and fills in that space behind the trigger that is usually covered over by modern target/combat-style grips.  While Melvin Tyler has passed to his reward, his company is still in operation and continues to make grip adapters for S&W, Colt and Ruger revolvers.  They also make trigger shoes for handguns and long guns and both items can be had finished in polished aluminum, gold or black anodized.

I also came across another useful goodie at the 2006 SHOT Show; this was called the RIMZ 25 and is a full-moon clip for use in DA revolvers chambering the .45 ACP cartridge.  For you neophytes, a clip is needed when using the rimless .45 ACP cartridge in a revolver cylinder in order to allow the cases to be ejected.  The ejector “star” engages the clip like it would the rim on a cartridge like the .45 Colt, since the .45 ACP was made for an auto-loading pistol.  Originally a “half-moon” clip was issued, which was held 3 cartridges and was made of blue steel.  Later on “full-moon” clips were developed that carried a full 6 cartridges.  I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with these clips as I have found them hard to load/unload without a special tool.  The RIMZ25 clip is made of black plastic and is truly the answer to my prayers.  It is easy to load or unload and seems as durable as the steel clips, but without the hassle.

Now if you are going to pack around a fine revolver such as this, you need some suitable leather and I knew right away I wanted to sheath this six-gun in a holster from El Paso Saddlery.  Ryan McNellis and company continue to make fine leather products down there on the border and I have used their belts and holsters for many years.  For this gun, I chose a 1930 “Austin” holster, an old Texas Ranger design that combines the looks and functions of a Tom Threepersons holster combined with a Mexican Loop rig.  I ordered it in their russet finish with fish-scale stamping to match my #150 “River Belt” and cartridge slides that I already own.  When you see the picture you will agree that this is a classy looking rig, besides being functional too.

I took the S&W Thunder Ranch Model 22 to the 2006 Shootists Holiday at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico.  I brought along an assortment of .45 ACP factory ammunition, along with some .45 Auto Rim hand-loads and later received some .45 Auto-Rim factory rounds from Cor-Bon.  Ok, I see you neophytes raising your hands again!  The .45 Auto-Rim was first produced by the Peters Cartridge Company in 1922 and had a thick rim so you could use the cartridge in a .45 ACP revolver, like the S&W Model 1917, without needing the “moon clips.”  It had a 230 gr. lead bullet and was made for many years by Remington-Peters, but was dropped from their catalog several years ago.  Anyway, you can now buy new brass cases for this cartridge from Starline and “roll your own” which is what I did using a 205 gr. lead bullet, Federal large pistol primers and a modest 4.0 gr. charge of Trail Boss powder. 

OK, back to Raton.  I went out to the Sight-In Range one day and did some bench-rest paper-punching using the Thunder Ranch Model 22.  I had some ammo from Black Hills; their 230 gr. ball cartridge plus their 185 gr. JHP in .45 ACP.  Meister bullets, who is now producing loaded cartridges, sent me some .45 ACP 230 gr. lead bullet loads and I had some Speer 230 gr. Gold Dot hollow-point ammo in .45 ACP.  As I said above I later received and tested .45 Auto-Rim ammo from Cor-Bon using their new 160 gr. DPX HP bullet, which is solid copper in construction and designed to retain bullet weight, plus expand, even after penetrating barriers like sheet steel and glass.   My best 5-shot group of the day was 1.66” using my handloads and 2.48” group with Black Hills 230 gr. FMJ load.  Later at another range I shot the Cor-Bon DPX ammo and recorded a 1.88” group, also at 25 yards.  I won’t bore you with a blow by blow, as you can see the results of the accuracy testing in the accompanying table.

One thing I did note was that the sights were off a bit and I had been warned that this might be the case with a low production gun of which my sample was one.  To score a hit in the black bulls-eye at 25 yards, I had to adjust my point of aim to about 10 o’clock at the top of the target and most of my shots were still going slightly to the right.  I guess I won’t be taking this six-gun to Camp Perry, but its role is not in the paper punching arena anyway and I have to admit with 52 years under (and over) my belt I’m no bulls-eye shooter anymore anyway!

Now on the combat shooting range, the S&W Model 22 Thunder Ranch .45 ACP proved its worth.  I put on my El Paso Saddlery rig, filled the cartridge slide loops and put some moon clips of .45 ACP ammo in my pocket.  I’d also brought along an HKS Speedloader for the .45 Auto-Rim cartridges and stoked it full of my handloads.  I was now ready to tackle a 30 round qualification course that is used by the division of Homeland Security that I work for when I’m not shooting and penning articles.  I put up a humanoid silhouette target and moved back to the 3-yard line.  Suddenly I went back in time to the mid-70’s when I started my law enforcement career and the holsters we used weren’t far removed from the rig I had on, with its forward cant and safety strap snapped down.  I performed a smooth draw, breaking loose that safety strap with the top edge of my trigger finger as my hand went for the grip.  The Model 22 came out smoothly and came on target as I assumed a classic “point shoulder” shooting stance and stroked the trigger six times.  I immediately dumped the six empty cases just like I’d been taught as a young Border Patrol Agent in 1982 and refilled with the HKS Speedloader; shifted the gun to my left hand and emptied it again, immediately loading with a “moon clip” and re-holstered.  I now moved back to 7 yards, drew and fired two shoots center-mass at the target looking over my sights.  I repeated this twice, again reloaded and re-holstered.  Again from 7 yards, I drew and fired two center-mass and 1 to the head, just in case the bad guy was wearing a ballistic vest.  I repeated this drill…oops, missed that second head shot, and again reloaded and re-holstered.  Now, I moved back to 15 yards and got behind the barricade.  As quickly as I could, I drew the gun and fired 2 shots from the right side of the barricade, 2 shots from the left side and went back to the right side, knelt down and fired my last 2 shots.  Course ended.  I totaled up 243/300, not one of my better days, but I qualified.  Sheesh, too many years shooting self-loaders on the job I guess?     

So in the final analysis, I found the S&W Model 22 Thunder Ranch .45 ACP delightful to the eye, well made and worthy of the Smith & Wesson name and Thunder Ranch reputation, plus darn good medicine for up-close and personal shooting that is the forte of a big-bore six-gun.  Go take a look at this handgun and add it to your collection, my guess is they won’t be around too long

William Bell


S&W Thunder Ranch Model 22 Revolver Specifications

Caliber .45 ACP and .45 Auto-Rim

Cartridge capacity; 6 rounds

Traditional SA/DA action

4” tapered barrel

Overall length 9.25”

Weight 37.5 oz.

Carbon steel blue finish

African Cocobolo “Magna” grips w/ Thunder Ranch logo

Pinned half-moon front sight, fixed service rear sight

N-Frame, square butt w/ 4-screw side plate


Includes Thunder Ranch gun rug, full-moon clips and a special TRR serial number range starting with TRR0000


S&W Model 22 Thunder Ranch .45 ACP Performance Table

Cartridge Velocity (FPS) Energy (FPE) Average Group
.45 AR Handload 205 gr. RNFP 682 212 2.39”
Black Hills .45 ACP 230 gr. FMJ 821 344 2.82”
Black Hills .45 ACP 185 gr. JHP 928 354 3.81”
Meister .45 ACP 230 gr. RNL 867 384 4.54”
Speer .45 ACP 230 gr. GDHP 840 360 3.22”
Cor-Bon .45 AR 160 gr. DPX-HP 1189 502 2.36”

NOTE:  Velocity measured with Oehler model 35P chronograph. Group averages are for four 5-shot groups from the bench at 25 yards. Muzzle energy is expressed in foot-pounds of energy (FPE).


Product Chart

Smith & Wesson (Model 22 Manufacturer)

2100 Roosevelt Ave.

Springfield, MA  01104



Thunder Ranch (Shooting School & Guns)

96747 Hwy. 140 East

Lakeview, OR  97630



El Paso Saddlery Co. (Holsters & Belts)

2025 E. Yandell

El Paso, TX  79903



Tyler Manufacturing (T-Grip Adapter)

P.O. Box 94845

Oklahoma City, OK  73143



Beckham Products Design LLC (RIMZ 25 Moon-Clip)

1048 Irvine Ave. #614

Newport Beach, CA  92660



HKS Products Inc. (M25 speedloaders)

7841 Foundation Dr.

Florence, KY  41042



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Click pictures for a larger version.


Smith & Wesson Model 22 Thunder Ranch revolver in .45 ACP/.45 Auto-Rim.  This is Clint Smith’s idea of the perfect big-bore service revolver, but you will have to buy your own Tyler T-Grip Adapter.



The Model 22 Thunder Ranch six-gun comes packed in this handy ballistic nylon carrying case and has some full moon clips, a security padlock, and the usual written material



Here’s a closer shot of those good looking Cocobolo grips. As you can see, the new Smith M-22 has no firing pin in the hammer nose like the originals, but it does have an old fashioned-looking cylinder release.



In order to shoot the .45 ACP cartridges in the Model 22 you need to have a “moon clip” that allows the rimless case to eject properly from a revolver cylinder.  The author favors the plastic Rimz 25 clip to the steel version on the left.



A good gun deserves good leather and some of the best comes from El Paso Saddlery.  This is the 1930 “Austin” holster, with River Belt and cartridge slide, all in russet finish with fish scale stamping.



On the target range the Thunder Ranch M-22 did pretty well.  These groups were fired with the new Cor-Bon .45 Auto-Rim load featuring the all copper DPX hollow-point bullet.