Many readers probably aren’t aware that, the US Navy SEALs packed the Smith & Wesson Model 59 in Vietnam back in the 1960s. This wasn’t the only handgun they used, but it was their preferred handgun to use a suppressor on. And it held 15+1 rounds of 9mm ammo.
The S&W Model 39 came along long before the Model 59. However, the Model 39 only held 8+1 rounds of ammo — still, it was a great handgun, I carried one for several years doing PI work. It was fairly “compact” all things considered, and it was light-weight, due to the aluminum frame. While serving as the assistant security manager, of a large department store back in the Chicago, Illinois area, one of our off-duty cops, who kept watch over the store at night packed a Model 59. And that was my first exposure to it. The store I worked at, was in a very large suburban mall, and it was still under construction when I first worked there — no alarm systems had been installed yet, so we hired off-duty police officers to stand watch at night on the exterior, while we had uniformed security officers on the inside of the store.
I was more than a little impressed with the 15+1 capacity of the Model 59 this off-duty cop was packing — he actually had it on the dashboard of his car, while he sat there keeping watch at night. Still, back then — we are talking 1973, there weren’t many JHP or SP 9mm types of ammo that would reliably feed in semiauto handguns — no matter who made them. What was surprising, as least to my young mind was that, even ammo under the S&W label, with heavily exposed lead tips — they were hollow points, wouldn’t reliably feed in the S&W Model 39 or Model 59.
Along about this time, our own Central intelligence Agency (CIA) was arming many of our overt and covert agents, with customized S&W 39 handguns — that made them even smaller, and more compact. I once ran a company called Rescue One, and we were at that time the only privately-listed private intel company registered with Interpol, and we had offices in the USA, Athens, Greece, and Cape Town, South Africa —and we did contract work several times for the CIA…another story in itself.
I saw my first customized S&W Model 39 at a local gun shop I haunted. It wasn’t one of “the” CIA specials, but it came from the same gunsmith who had customized these guns for the CIA. The owner of the gun shop wouldn’t part with it for all the money in the world. Since then, many custom gunsmiths customized the Model 59, doing the same type of work that was done on the CIA specials. It did take S&W some years, before they finally figured out that they should be doing the same thing to their Models 39 and 59 — and the Model 59 was an instant hit with the public — it was first called the 459 — a carbon steel slide on an Aluminum frame — and later on, it went on to their 4″ generation, called the 5904 and 5906 — they were all the rage back then — and there is still a strong following for these long discontinued handguns.
What we have with the 6906 version is a shorter a 3.5-inch stainless steel slide, and a shorter aluminum alloy frame that held 12+1 rounds of 9mm ammo, and they would feed just about any type of ammo — even wide-mouthed JHP rounds—it was, and still is quite the concealed carry gun. It also had a bobbed hammer, so no cocking the hammer for the first shot. Rather, it was fired double-action and after that, all remaining shots were single-action. Once you were done shooting, you could use the decocker to decock the gun and holster it.
Firing in the double-action mode, for the first shot wasn’t nearly as hard to do as you’d think, it was fairly smooth, once you got over that first “hump” in the trigger pull. There was also a bit of a “hump” in the single-action trigger pull — nothing one couldn’t overcome with some range time. The gun came with two magazines, and they had a pinky catcher on the floor plate, so you could get a full grip on the gun. It also accepted the full 15 round mags, albeit they stuck out of the bottom of the grip a bit.
All things considered, the Model 6906, was really compact, for that time period. And it held plenty of ammo in the gun. And in a spare mag, and you should always carry at least one spare mag if you are packing a handgun — ALWAYS! So that would give you 25 rounds, — plenty of ammo except for all but the most serious gunfights you might have gotten into. These days, you are more likely to run into multiple attackers and who knows if 25 rounds of ammo are enough? I just don’t have a pat answer to how much ammo you should carry. However, if you ask someone who has been in a gunfight, they’ll probably tell you that, you can never have too much ammo on your person when the lead starts flying.
My personal S&W Model 6906 is in 95% as-new condition. This was one I ran across at a gun shop, and whoever owned it before me, sure didn’t shoot it very much at all…just a few wear spots on a high spot or two…it cost me $499 and checking around the ‘net, I found that is about the average price for one of these guns, in that condition. However, the trick is, finding more spare FACTORY-made 12 round magazines…I’ve seen them for as much as $78 each, on some web sites. Oh, there’s some after-market mags out there, but none I would trust with my life, so stick with the factory magaziness for 100% reliability.
The 6906 weighs in at only about 26 ounces, depending on which web site you read. The front sight on the 6906 has a white dot, and the rear sight — it is lacking if you ask me. S&W rounded it off to the extreme, so it wouldn’t snag on clothing when drawing it…it is too small — much too small — for my aged eyes to really see as well as I’d like. Then again, you should focus on the front sight and your intended target — not so much on the rear sight.
One thing worth mentioning is that, these days, it’s a bit difficult — but not impossible to find a good concealed carry holster for these handguns, but they are out there — just don’t buy a cheap generic ballistic nylon holster. There are some of the big name holster makers that are making great leather holsters for these now discontinued handguns.
I had a great assortment of 9mm ammo on-hand, from Black Hills Ammunition for testing in my 6906. First off was their HoneyBadger, 100-gr ammo — this is an all-copper solid milled bullet, that performs even better than a JHP design because of the way the bullet is designed, this one is a +P load, I also had their 125-gr Subsonic load, and is easy in the recoil department, and it is moving along around 1,050 FPS, where the +P is about 1,300 FPS. I had the Black Hills 115-gr JHP, 115-gr FMJ factory seconds, 124-gr JHP, 115-gr EXP HP (extra power), and their 115-gr Barnes TAC-XP +P loads. So there was a good assortment to run through this 6906.
I already knew this gun was a good shooter, but I had never printed it on paper for some reason. While you can shoot some +P loads through one of these guns, I would limit it to use in self-defense carry, it is a bit hard on some of the older 9mm handguns. Even though this is (was?) a compact 9mm handgun, with a 3.5-inch barrel, I did my accuracy testing out to 25 yards. The Black Hills 125-gr HoneyBadger load was the winner — giving me groups dead on at 3-inches, and that is more than accurate for self-defense work. Second runner-up was the 124-gr JHP load — hot on the heels on the HoneyBadger load…the rest of the loads were giving me 3.5 – 4 inch groups if I was on my game — and that is still more than accurate enough for self-defense work. Remember, according to statistics, most shootings take place at 21 feet or less, and more often than not, at around 10 feet!
I had zero malfunctions with the 6906, and didn’t expect any, I’ve shot this gun a lot to know it is 100% reliable. In all, I put 300-rounds down range in my testing — much of it was targets of opportunity — rocks and other range targets. This little gun brought back a lot of good memories, and of all the times I carried a similar S&W back in the 1970s, and even later.
If you’re into “metal” guns more than “plastic” ones,then check out a used S&W Model 6906, or the blued version, and if you want a bigger version, see about a 5906…they are still very viable handguns. Just be advised, factory magazines for the 6906 are a bit hard to find — they are out there — but you’ll pay more for them than you would for the full-sized mags.