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« WHY WE SHOOT | Main | Range Report: Para-Ordnance LDA (.45) »

November 16, 2003

Range Report: Smith & Wesson 686 (.357)

If I could only have one handgun to last a lifetime, it would be a .357 revolver with a four inch barrel, adjustable sights, in stainless steel. Lo and behold, that's the gun I shot tonight in the form of Smith & Wesson's 686.

Smith & Wesson .357 MagnumWhy would I prefer a revolver as my one and only gun? Simplicity, for one. With even minimal maintenance, such a gun will last a lifetime. Revolvers are easy to clean, and there are relatively few parts. Unlike an automatic, a revolver has only a few springs, and none of the springs are compressed when the gun is stored, so they last a long time.

Revolvers are also much less picky than automatics about the ammo they shoot. A .357 can shoot light-kicking .38 Specials, higher-velocity .38 +P rounds, and full-on .357 Magnums, depending on how you want to balance recoil and velocity. They also shoot a wide variety of projectiles - snakeshot, hollowpoints, Glaser safety slugs, ball ammo, or flat, target-punching wadcutters.

The 686 uses S&W's L frame (the "large" medium frame), which is sturdy enough to cycle tens of thousands of rounds of .357 and soak up the recoil, though .38 Special loads will be more comfortable for the shooter. With a four inch barrel it balances and points well. Besides which, it just feels good. "Comfortable heft" isn't a cliche with this gun.

The S&W lockwork is smooth and predictable. Once I got used to the two-staged trigger, I could squeeze through the first stage to rotate the cylinder and cock the hammer, then squeeze gently through the short, final stage to drop the hammer. Shooting one handed with my offhand in my back pocket also produced high-scoring targets. Sight picture is excellent. For best accuracy, you can always cock the hammer and shoot single action.

Minor nitpick: the S&W stock rubber grips felt great, but about half the time the top of the grip blocked one of the empty hulls from ejecting just right. I'd probably replace them with slimmer boot grips.

Smith & Wesson 386Smith & Wesson has a wide variety of .357s in different metals, barrel lengths, sights, and capacity (from five rounds to eight). At the lower end of the weight scale is the 340 at 12 ounces and five shots with a shrouded hammer. The weight savings are due to the smaller J frame and the use of Scandium and titanium instead of steel. I'll test one of the S&W titanium Airlites soon.

One of the most radical S&W .357s is the 386PD, a K frame, Scandium/Titanium model with light-gathering sights that fires seven rounds and weighs just 18.5 ounces. There's also the Performance Center 627, which holds eight rounds. It's an all-steel N frame with a five inch barrel. Weight is 44 ounces.


Posted by Les Jones