Smith and Wesson 317 Kit Gun Review

By: Caleb Giddings


You might be surprised to know that the phrase “kit gun” originated with Smith & Wesson in 1911. The original 22/32 Kit Gun from S&W was an I-frame 22 LR holding six shots. Now, the modern Smith and Wesson 317 Kit Gun is an AirLite, 8-shot in S&W’s popular small frame. It’s not new, but it’s enduringly popular, so let’s take a look at what makes this gun so great.

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Smith & Wesson 317 Kit Gun Weight

It’s impossible to talk about the Smith and Wesson 317 without first mentioning the weight. According to my scale, the S&W 317 in this article weighs 12.6 ounces. That’s about an ounce heavier than S&W’s quoted weight, likely due to the heavier than stock VZ Grips on my gun.

The problem with telling you weights in ounces is that most people have no concept of what an ounce weighs, much less 12 of them. So, according to the internet, here is a list of things that weigh MORE than the S&W 317:

  • A fully inflated football (unless you’re Tom Brady) weighs about 14.5 oz
  • An inflated soccer ball weighs about 15 oz
  • A can of Campbells Soup weighs about 12 oz

Being somewhat incredulous about the soup, I grabbed a can of soup from the pantry. Sure enough, the heft in the hand was very similar to the revolver. Now, the 22 LR revolver distributes its weigh a bit differently than the soup, but I’d believe that they are about the same.

Other Features on the Smith and Wesson 317

The Smith & Wesson 317 features after market VZ Grips

Moving on from the weight, the S&W 317 is a nicely set up little revolver. The goal of a kit gun is to be light and unobtrusive when included in an outdoorsman’s gear. Obviously thanks to its light weight, the 317 starts off on the right foot. This is thanks in part to its aluminum construction, which unlike most guns in the AirLite lineup includes the cylinder. The low pressures of 22 LR rounds mean that the Smith and Wesson 317 revolver can safely use the lighter material for its cylinder.

Another handy feature is the large green fiber optic front sight. This is paired with a shallow v-shaped rear notch. Together, it presents a sight picture similar to an old express sight on a hunting rifle. Instead of aligning the sights for “equal height and equal light” I zeroed the S&W 317 with the ball of the fiber optic sitting proud in the v-shaped notch. This gives a more coarse aiming reference, but aids in faster target acquisition.

The last feature on the 317 AirLite worth mentioning is the capacity. Unlike other small frame revolvers, the S&W packs 8 shots of 22 LR in its alloy cylinder. While 22 LR is marginal for self-defense, the firepower advantage of 8 shots vs 5 is certainly worth considering. There are a few very serious people I’m aware of that utilize a 317 as a carry gun for personal defense due its light weight and easy shooting characteristics.

Shooting the S&W 317 Kit Gun

We wouldn’t be doing a very good job with our S&W 317 kit gun review if we didn’t actually shoot it. Full disclosure: I bought this gun with my own money. I was going to use it for a project that fell through, but liked shooting it so much I kept it. First thing I did was ditch the factory grips in favor of the VZ grips pictured. Next I ditched the factory springs and firing pin in favor of an Apex J-frame kit.

With the Apex kit installed, including the extra length firing pin, I’ve had 100% ignition with CCI Mini-Mag ammo in the lightweight revolver. One note of caution: the extra length Apex pin will damage the cylinder if you dry fire it empty. If you plan to dry fire, you’ll want to keep some spent brass handy to cushion that impact.

Prior to installing the Apex kit, the trigger pull was a heavy 12 pounds. With the Apex kit in, it’s down to 7-8 in double action, and sub 2 pounds in single action. This is one gun where I can see some utility for single action, even if I eschew its use myself. If I was trying to zap a squirrel in the head at 15 yards with this gun, I might be tempted to use the single action function. I wouldn’t, I’d still shoot it DA like God intended, but I’d be tempted to cock that hammer back.

CCI mini mags produced this group standing at 25 yards
Group shot at 25 yards standing unsupported with CCI Mini Mags

The gun itself is more than accurate enough to make that head shot on a squirrel. Even if that’s not why I have it, it’s nice to know if I need to declare war on the furry menaces in my yard, I’ve got a good gun for it. It printed a couple of 2 inch groups with CCI Mini Mags, and at 30 yards was easily ringing an 8 inch steel plate double action.

Smith and Wesson 317 AirLite Price

This is the one part that’s a little tough to sell: the gun is expensive. Online, it’ll run about $725. People are used to 22 LRs being inexpensive, but that’s not the case with a 22 LR revolver. It costs pretty much the same to make a 22 wheelgun as it does to make a 357 Magnum. That’s why rimfire revolvers frequently cost so much more than rimfire semi-auto pistols.

However, with the S&W 317 AirLite, the premium is worth it. What you’re paying for is a 22 LR gun that fits into a pocket, a pouch on a bag, and go anywhere with you without costing a great weight penalty. If your hikes don’t involve dangerous animals like bears and mountain lions, it’s the perfect companion for getting off the beaten path a bit.

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