Heavy Duty

Because of its high pressure, S&W had to introduce a new big revolver specifically for .38-44s. It was built upon their large N-Frame that accounted for the somewhat strange name — a .38 caliber revolver on a .44 size frame. In those days S&W, and Colt too for that matter, did not give model numbers to their handguns. Instead they got names. The new .38-44 was named Heavy Duty and came in 4″, 5″ and 61/2″ barrel lengths with the middle one being far more common. I don’t have evidence of that; it’s just my experience-based opinion.

The Heavy Duty was a utility style sixgun with a groove down its topstrap serving as the rear sight and half-moon shaped front sight. Thereafter S&W brought out a second BIG .38-44 named Outdoorsman. It had a fully adjustable rear sight and the square shaped front called Patridge. The only barrel length offered as standard on the Outdoorsman version was 6.5″. After S&W transitioned to model numbers the Outdoorsman became the Model 20 and the Heavy Duty became the Model 23.

Colt was not about to let a good thing pass and soon specified their large frame DA New Service was suitable for .38-44 loads as well as the Colt Single Action Army. The former DA Colt was offered in 4.5″, 5.5″ and 7.5″ barrel lengths and the SA came in 4.75″, 5.5″ and 7.5″ lengths. Both Colts had the traditional grooved topstrap and blade front sights, but Colt also offered their target sighted Shooting Master in .38 Special.