Top Break Revolvers?

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Jan 1, 2010
Hayward, WI
Been thinking about looking for an inexpensive shooter top break revolver. Obviously, S&W are probably the best, especially the later DA's. But how are the H&R's or Iver Johnson's? Or, for that matter, US Revolver :what: ? Black powder vs smokeless? I shoot a flintlock rifle so black powder isn't a showstopper.

It just seems that a old break top in .32 S&W or .38 S&W could make an interesting plinker. That or make a cased set with a LCR ... :evil:

Any hints, tips, advice?


I have five of the old breaktops, all in excellent condition. It is still possible to buy .32 S&W ammo. Needless to say it is a mild load considering there are a lot of the old revolvers around in very questionable condition. The H&R's, IJ's, and F&W's are fine and considerably cheaper than the S&W's. But I've got to tell you, they are not much fun to shoot. Because of the tiny grip there is more recoil that you would expect, not enough to bother however. The reason they aren't much fun is because they may or may not shoot to point of aim. I just can't coax enough practical accuracy out of mine to make them interesting. And the ammo is quite expensive. Although I reload, I don't reload for the .32. I don't have enough interest in shooting them to justify buying dies.

If you want a breaktop for plinking, I would suggest one of the H&R's in .22 caliber. I'm not sure of the model designation, but it is a full size gun. And the ones that I have owned have been very nicely finished.

I shoot a lot of black powder. These guns though made until WWII are all black powder designs. If I were going to shoot one much, I would certainly use black powder. Besides, BP is just more fun.
The genuine Iver Johnson (not the cheap US Revolver) was quite sophisticated for the time, with a "Hammer the Hammer" transfer bar safety. If this, the H&R or especially a Smith & Wesson (in good shape, not stretched, loose, out of time, etc.) floats your boat, go for it. They can also be used in cowboy shooting side matches, I believe. I would not bother with a junky old "suicide special."
S&W are probably the best

Maybe ........maybe not. These old S&W top breaks are extremely hard to find parts for and some of the internals are fitted like a watch. If you do decide to go with one get one in the best shape you can find with perfect timing & lockup. Don't go with a fixer upper! I think you might be better served with a H&R or Iver Johnson topbreak in .22 LR. There will not be much price difference in one of those & the S&W but they are much cheaper to shoot. H&R 999 Sportsman is considered the "Caddy" of the top break .22's and the prices on them are reflecting that status. Good luck with whatever you go with.
Thanks for the thoughts. A local gunsmith has a number listed on his web page so I may go take a look at those & see what condition they're in.

If a 22 is what you are after, . You can't go wrong with the H&R Sportsman. I have several, from 1936 to 1980. Every one, (except the 2 NIB pieces) is a very good shooter.
Well built, and will last a lifetime!!

1980 Sportsman, all wearing Jay Scott grips

1980 6" Sportsman NIB

1951 Sportsman

1939 Ultra Sportsman

1955 Sportsman

1955 Chrome Sportsman

1938 Chrome Sportsman
Some of the old top break revolvers will work as well today as they ever did, but there is just too much danger of parts (esp. springs) breaking to trust them for serious purposes. Also, the tiny, thin sights on the old guns do not permit any real accuracy.

Few gunsmiths will work on those old guns; most are not worth the cost of repair even if parts can be obtained. S&W's are also fragile, but will generally hold up to a lot of use. The problem there is that good ones are now collectibles (read: high priced) and too valuable to shoot.

I am not against shooting the old timers; the last time I was at the range, I fired my S&W Second Model Baby Russian. Worked fine with modern ammo, but the sights were hard to use. I recently acquired a H&A Safety Police, and plan to shoot it when the weather improves.

There are a few top-break revolver replicas still made in .38 special. That would be my choice for a fun cheap-to-shoot plinker with readily available ammo (and a decent amount of stopping power to boot).
I'm sorry I passed on a H&R.

It was in my favorite Funshop for $99. It was a H&R .38 S&W with a 3.5 barrel. It was easily 98%. Looked like a never used night stand gun. Wish I had bought it. I have a thing for breaktops. As it stands, I may end up selling my Sportsman to fund another project since work is so slow. Trying to hold off as long as I can. Gotta see how life goes. There is nothing as much fun as taking a new shooter (my nephews) out and breaking open the action and watching their eyes when the empties fly! Those kids have a blast with it!

Mine is quite a bit like the '55 above, except with a thumb groove in the left grip. Mines dated at '57 or so.
Define "cheap."

I like the top break revolvers as fun to shoot and have wanted an H&R 22 Sportsman for years but sellers want $500+ and I can't justify that.

I would be leery of shooting a very old S&W.

So I got the one pictured for $100 at a local show. These are also outrageously priced these days but the action was frozen so the dealer marked it at a C note. I poured some solvent through it to clean out the hardened grease and it worked fine. :D


The 38 S&W cases are available and I load lead .357" bullets to around 750 FPS and the gun shoots groups at 50' that can be covered with the palm of my hand.
Not to steal a thread but hopefully add to it ............. some of you guys have got some great looking H&R Sportsman! Thanks for the fine pictures!
Growin' up...out in the boonies in the '70's....I carried an S&W model 3 DA in .44-40......
Also, the tiny, thin sights on the old guns do not permit any real accuracy.
The sights seemed quite sufficient at the time....Nowadays though, they seem a little blurry for some reason..

With moderate loads I would shoot that old relic today.....let's see...a hand cast 200 grainer at about 950-1000ish fps........still a formidable round....

I believe that Charles Bronson had one in the movie " hard times"


That old "relic" might be how I got my handle..
Don't forget the Webley line of top breaks. I recently got a .38S&W Webley Mk 4, for about $280. It was made in the 50's and as such is perfectly capable of handling any ammo. They are great guns, and handle quite well. Recoil from my 4inch one is almost nonexistant.
I've been carrying an old Marlin top break 38 S&W top break revolver in my belly band under my sweat shirt. It's marked 1887 on top of the barrel. For years I carried my Glock 21/30, but my weight has gone up to 279 and the Glock prints now. I bought a nice little Kahr 40 S&W, but it battered the frame and barrel the first outting with it. I've fired the Marlin over a 40 year period and I know it works when I need to make a shot. It is slim and hides wonderfully......Mike
The other pistol I inherited when my father passed on was an H&R Sportsman that he got in New Orleans in 1949 when his tin-can pulled in for whatever reason the skipper had. It looks just like Vanagon40 and jamesjo Sportsmans. No ventilation of the rib and the lousy blob of wood grip.

By the way, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Dad bought a brick of .22LR ammo at the local Oshmans sporting goods store, took me and my mom out to the field near the house to make sure we knew how to load, shoot, and unload the H&R, before he reported back aboard ship (he was in the naval reserves at that point) to go steam circles in the Gulf and Carribean until Kruschev blinked. Every time I shoot it, a really good feeling comes over me...I'm shooting my Dad's old gun................THE original family gun........
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