S&W Mountain Lite scandium revolver
mong this year’s new products from Smith & Wesson is a line of lightweight revolvers with scandium alloy frames. Previous lightweights from S&W and other manufacturers featured frames of aluminum or titanium. Aluminum makes for a very light gun, but its limited tensile strength restricts its use to guns with chamberings no more powerful than .38 Spl. +P. Even then, the S&W’s cylinder has to be steel, thus limiting the weight reduction that could be achieved.
Scandium is a rare and expensive element. Thankfully only a small amount of scandium is needed to boost the tensile strength of aluminum to the point where it compares to that of steel. Combined with titanium cylinders, the use of a scandium and aluminum alloy means S&W’s guns made from that alloy can be both lighter and more powerful.
The Mountain Lite is chambered in .357 Mag., and it features a titanium cylinder CNC-machined from bar stock with a seven-shot capacity. The frame and barrel shroud are of the aluminum and scandium alloy, while the barrel itself consists of stainless steel. By maximizing the use of lightweight materials, the Mountain Lite weighs in at just 18 1/2 ozs.
In such a lightweight handgun, careful attention must be paid to the composition of internal components that are especially vulnerable to battering from recoil of cartridges as powerful as the .357 Mag. Accordingly, the Mountain Lite makes use of Titanium pins for the hammer and trigger pivots that hold up better under recoil, along with triggers and hammers of casehardened steel. Titanium has a hardening threshold beyond which parts become brittle, which is why hammers, triggers and other internal operating parts are of hardened steel. Few mishaps will put a revolver out of action faster than a bent ejector rod; accordingly, a shroud beneath the barrel protects the Mountain Lite’s stainless steel unit.
A wide checkered paddle on the external hammer aids thumb-cocking for single-action fire. In contrast, the trigger’s curved face is smooth to limit any perceived recoil that could be transmitted through the trigger assembly of this lightweight gun. For safer storage, the Mountain Lite includes a lock pin on the left-hand side of frame above the cylinder latch. Turning the pin counter clockwise blocks movement of the trigger, hammer and cylinder. An “L” with an arrow stamped above the cylinder lock serves as a visual cue for the user.
Although the Mountain Lite’s more visible features seem to be aiming for high-tech cachet, the hammer and cylinder are powered by traditional flat springs.
A powerful, lightweight revolver also demands stocks that aid recoil management. With that purpose in mind, Hogue Bantam Grips are standard on the Mountain Late. The Bantam is a one-piece unit that wraps around the front, but not the back strap. Interior aluminum panels stiffen the Bantam’s soft neoprene surface. The grip has a large fillet above the topmost of its three finger grooves to protect the firer’s hand from any potential rapping from the trigger guard, and the last finger groove extends beyond the bottom of the
grip frame, allowing the firer to establish a shooting grip using his whole hand.
The light weight and unique recoil profile of titanium revolvers have been known to unseat bullets in lightly crimped cartridges. The manuals for the last group of S&W titanium revolvers we tested (August 1999, p. 34) specifically recommended that users avoid unjacketed bullets, but Smith & Wesson makes no specific recommendation or restrictions on ammunition brands or types for the Mountain Lite. However, the manual does advise users to test ammunition by loading a cylinder and shooting all but the last round. If the bullet in the remaining cartridge shows signs of unseating, that ammunition should not be used.
For accuracy and velocity testing we shot the Mountain Lite from a Ransom Rest. Results are shown on the accompanying table. Consistent with S&W’s previous guidelines, we saw no evidence of bullets unseating in commercial ammunition with jacketed bullets. We did, however, observe some loosening in the unjacketed wadcutters we tried in search of a lighter load for practice. The trigger of our example broke at 10 lbs. pull in the double-action mode and just 3 lbs. single-action. There was no stacking, and the trigger pull length was very short for a double-action.
The Hogue grips are comfortable and do an admirable job protecting the firer’s fingers from the rap of the trigger guard. The backstrap, however, is open and recoil through the web of the hand was harsh. Although shooters experienced in controlling hard-kicking handguns found it manageable, it is wise to remember that the Mountain Lite is not a strong candidate for those seeking a plinker for long shooting sessions.
Hi-Viz sights are large and easy to see even in low light, thus aiding rapid sight alignment. Like the Mountain Lite’s large L-frame and wide seven-shot cylinder, its sights are too bulky for discreet carry next to the body under clothing. These features should present no problem for carry in a backpack or belt holster. Bulk is far less of a penalty than weight when trekking the high country in any case.
The Mountain Lite is a special-purpose tool. For those who need a powerful handgun that is too light to be left behind, it is certainly worth consideration.
Copyright National Rifle Association of America Sep 2002
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