Pat Cascio’s Product Review: S&W Model 459

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Some SurvivalBlog readers often question me as to why I don’t do more articles on old, used, or classic guns. Well, if you cruise through my many articles, you will see that I do cover these types of guns quite regularly. For example, if you look at my many articles on the Model 1911, you’ll read about this classic, which has been around for more than a hundred years. Even though there are many improvements made to the 1911 by various makers, it is still basically the same gun it was when it first came out.

I think many of us love to read about new guns and dream about owning them. Unfortunately, we aren’t well off financially and can’t afford all the new guns that seem to come out almost daily. Many readers mistakenly believe that I own all of the guns I write about. Such is not the case; they are on loan to me from the gun companies. Sure, I’m able to purchase some of them, but most get away from me after I’m done testing them. I’m always on the lookout for great deals in a used firearm at the local gun shop I haunt and quite often find some outstanding deals on used guns. However, one is advised to closely examine any used guns for excessive wear and tear before laying down your hard-earned money. Even with my many years of experience working on guns and writing about them, I often find myself having to repair a used gun I purchased. Also, to be sure, the gun shop I haunt often asks me to repair some of the used guns they took in on trade. Most of the time it’s a quick and easy fix.

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The Smith & Wesson Model 59 may not qualify as a “classic” in the sense of the word or in the eyes of many gun owners, but it is. The Model 59 was the first successful DA/SA double stack 9mm handgun to come out in 1971. It was an updated and improved version of the Model 39 that came along many years before. However, the 39 only held 8+1 rounds of 9mm ammo. The 59 held 14+1 rounds, and it was considered by many as the first “Wonder Nine”. Yes, I know; the Browning Hi-Power came along back in the 1930s, but it was a single-action only 9mm pistol. The S&W Model 59 was the first in an unrelenting line-up of DA/SA 9mm handguns to come along that held a lot of ammo in the magazines.

I’m covering my well used S&W Model 459, which is an improved version of the Model 59. The first 59 weighed-in at only 30 oz, which is heavy by today’s standards of handguns that have polymer frames; the 59 has an anodized Aluminum frame. Still, back in the day, it was really a light-weight handgun that held a lot of ammo. It came with a 4-inch Bbl, and most models were blued, although some came chromed and later version came with stainless steel slides. There was even a very rare version that came with an all-steel frame. The original 59 came with two 14-rd magazines; later versions came with 15-rd magazines. The 459 is considered a Second Generation of this model. These guns were introduced in 1971 and discontinued in 1988, so they have been around a good long time. After this, came the Third Generation models of these guns. They were highly improved upon in many areas, especially ergonomics. To many people, the 59-series felt like a 2X4 in their hands. It didn’t feel that way to me and still doesn’t!

My 459 was picked up for the princely sum of $250, which was quite a deal for a Wonder Nine, if you ask me. Even though it has a lot of wear (of the anodizing) on the aluminum frame, the gun was still a solid shooter. Like many used guns I run across, they have been carried a lot and not shot much. Such is the case with my 459. I easily touched-up some of the bare spots on the frame with some touch-up bluing. It will wear off again, but it doesn’t really matter since aluminum won’t rust!

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Early 59-series 9mm pistols came with a single-side safety/decocker on the left side of the gun. Later versions came with an ambi-safety/decocker. The decocker was used to, well, decock the gun, if you were finished firing and there were still rounds in it. You simply lowered the decocker from the 9:00 position to the 6:00 position and it safety dropped the hammer. Then you could either leave the decocker down or push it back up, so you were ready to fire the round left in the chamber and magazine. Some police departments, who adopted the 59-series, mandated that their officers carry their guns with the decocker down, in the safe position. Many firearms instructors, myself included, taught students to carry their guns with the safety/decocker in the ready-to-fire position.

The front strap of the frame has serrations milled into it for a better grip, and the butt of the frame has a lanyard ring, if you were mandated to carry the gun with an attached lanyard. The back strap also has serrations in it. Again, this helps when firing the gun to keep it on-target. The plastic grips are checkered and fit perfectly, too. There are some aftermarket wood grips or rubber grips made for the 59-serious. However, they make an already thick gun, too thick to hold in the hand, if you ask me. The plastic grips fit my hand just fine.

There was always one really weak spot in the design of the original 59, and that was the 14-rd magazines. They didn’t have a very stout spring at all, and quite often rounds would get hung up in the magazine instead of smoothly feeding them into the chamber. S&W improved the magazine all the way around, when they came out with their 15-rd magazines. They came with a stronger spring and a plastic base on the magazine, as well as a better follower for sure feeding of every round in the mag. If you own a Model 59 or 459 and you are having problems with it feeding, the first thing to do is change the ammo, and then if you still have problems get a new and improved magazine. I have Mec-Gar 15-rd and 17-rd mags for my 459, and they work flawlessly. Plus, they are a lot less money than original S&W mags. Mec-Gar manufactures original equipment magazines for many of the gun makers.

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The 459 I own has the fully adjustable rear sight, adjustable for windage and elevation within certain limits, and it is a vast improvement in the sight picture, than the original itty-bitty fixed rear sight that came with some of the early guns. The front sight is plain black, however, I painted mine with orange paint so it is easier for my aged eyes to see.

I’ve had zero failures to function with my 459. However, I installed a new recoil spring; they only cost about five bucks from Brownell’s, and I could feel the huge difference with the new spring. Retracting the slide took a lot more effort than with the original spring, and the odds are that it had the original spring that was installed in the gun. Many gun owners never change recoil springs in semi-auto handguns, which is a big mistake if you ask me. I try to keep a round count and change springs on a regular basis. This helps prevent any malfunctions as well as helps prevent the frame of the gun from being battered.

The 59 and 459 weren’t the stoutest guns to come along, and some PDs that were issuing these guns also issued +P or +P+ ammo, which caused premature wear and tear on the guns. To be sure, no gun maker will warranty their guns for +P+ ammo, so be advised. I have fired standard velocity ammo as well as +P and +P+ loads through my 459 without an ill-effects. However, for everyday shooting, standard velocity ammo works fine. For street carry, I prefer to only use +P load – JHP ammo. However, a steady diet of heavy loads isn’t advised, period!

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For my testing, I had an outstanding assortment of 9mm from Black Hills Ammunition and Buffalo Bore Ammunition for my function and accuracy testing. From Buffalo Bore, I had their 147-gr JHP sub-sonic load, 147-gr FMJ FN, 115-gr TAC-XP Barnes all-copper hollow point that is +P+ rated, 124-gr FMJ FN +P+, 115-gr JHP +P+, 124-gr JHP +P+, 124-gr JHP +P, and their 147-gr Hard Cast FN Outdoorsman load +P. From Black Hills, I had their 115-gr JHP +P, 124-gr JHP +P, 115-gr EXP (extra power) hollow point, 124-gr JHP, and their 115-gr TAC XP Barnes all-copper hollow point +P load. Whew! That is quite an assortment of 9mm ammo.

As I stated at the start of this article, I had zero malfunctions with this 459. It didn’t matter what ammo I used, and that’s an outstanding thing, especially in a used handgun where I don’t know the background or history on the gun. Replacing the recoil spring was just prudent in my humble opinion.

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In all my shooting, at least for this article, I ran more than 500 rounds of ammo through the gun; most was just blasting away at targets of opportunity. For my accuracy testing, I rested the gun over the hood of my pickup truck, using a rolled-up sleeping bag as a rest. No groups exceeded four inches, if I did my part. However, some groups were down there at three inches, again, if I did my part. One type of ammo– the Black Hills, 124-gr JHP– would give me some groups just ever so slightly under three inches. I couldn’t do it all the time, and it was just a fraction of an inch below three inches. Tthat’s outstanding for any gun you might consider for self defense. Many firearms instructors will say that any gun that gives you groups of four inches is perfect for combat situations. I concur!

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I have every confidence in my S&W 459 and wouldn’t hesitate to carry it today for self-defense purposes, even though it is outdated, an “antique”, or whatever you want to call it compared to the ever-expanding lineup of polymer framed guns. Maybe it’s the dinosaur in me that loves this gun, or maybe it’s just nostalgia that draws me to this gun. Whatever it is, this is one winner of a used gun in my book, and for $250 it’s a bargain and would serve you well in a SHTF scenario or for self defense or home defense. You don’t always have to spend a lot of money to get a lot of gun. You don’t always have to have the latest polymer handgun to serve your needs. I checked around on the ‘net before doing this article and found that used 459s samples could be had for $275- $300, which is a bargin! If you can live with a hammer-fired pistol, in today’s striker-fired world of semi-autos, then check out the 459. It’s a lot of gun for a little bit of money!

– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio

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One Response to Pat Cascio’s Product Review: S&W Model 459

  1. William says:

    my first handgun was a S&W 459 i could not even start to count the number of rounds i put through it in all the time i had it i had a total of one jam but i think that was due to using a off brand of ammo and not the gun
    i wish i could find another one

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