SMITH & WESSON MODEL 617, .22 CALIBER, SKU: 160584

In all my years of shooting, I have never owned a .22 caliber double-action revolver. I have shot them, but never owned one. I do have an older Ruger Single-six Descapotable that will shoot .22 (short, long, and long rifle) and with a cylinder change, it will also shoot .22 WMR, and it does a fine job in doing so. That’s not saying that I never wanted to own a double-action revolver, because I have, but one has never brought itself to the forefront of my attention, and when one did come close, it was deemed a frivolous item and eventually dropped from consideration, but the yearning remained.

Lately, in a not-so-feeble attempt to renew my bucket list, as it really does not take a lot of effort to come up with a list of firearms to add to a bucket list, a .22 caliber double-action revolver has crawled up in status a bit. After doing some research, since with Smith & Wesson alone there are five models to select from (Model 317 Kit Gun, Model 63, Model 617 (6” and 4”), and Model 17) only two .22 caliber double-actions revolvers stood out from the pack; the Ruger SP101 and the Smith & Wesson Model 617, the latter of which could be considered a little brother to the Smith & Wesson Model 686 .38 Special/.357 Magnum revolver.

The major complaint regarding the Ruger SP101, by many reviewers of this revolver, was the very heavy trigger pull. My other complaint is the price of the revolver. The price of the Smith & Wesson Model 617 is better, but not by much, mind you. The only thing the Smith & Wesson Model 617 in the 4” version had going for it at first, in my mind, was the similarity between it and my Smith & Wesson 686; albeit, the Model 617 is a ‘K’ frame and not a ‘L’ frame.

The other thing that the Smith & Wesson Model 617 had going for it was the action. I was able to handle a used Ruger SP101 in .22 caliber at a local pawn shop. The trigger in double-action mode was extremely heavy and single-action operation was not much better. The Ruger SP101 remained at the pawn shop.  If nothing else, I had a baseline from which I could judge the Smith & Wesson Model 617 when I did find one to handle.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, a range rental S&W 617 in the 6-inch barrel flavoring is available at my gun club and range. I found it by accident when perusing a list of range rental firearms.  Being able to shoot this range rental would be a big plus in deciding if I was going to add a S&W 617 to the collection, as I get to “try before I buy.” Unfortunately,  a Ruger SP101 in .22 caliber offering was not available.  The other advantage to being able to try the S&W 617 is that I get to tell you how a revolver that has had numerous rounds fired though it without cleaning or other maintenance is doing. Setting things aside like the buildup of carbon and lead, how the action is operating is paramount. Such things like; is the timing correct, how does the trigger feel, and cylinder gap and looseness all weigh into the equation of determining the worthiness of a revolver.

As they say; “It’s not what you do, it’s the timing of what you do that is important!” I don’t know ‘bout all of that, but timing is important in a firearm and especially with a revolver. The information that follows is provided at no cost to the reader, and I would provide an attribute to the author of what follows if I know who that was. This information was copied from the WWW quite a long time ago.

  • The leading cause of revolver timing and action wear is simple abuse. Revolvers will wear from use, but in my experience, the most common cause is a revolver that’s been abused by the owner. This is not always knowing abuse, often it’s that the owner simply doesn’t know any better.
  • Types of abuse are “Bogarting” the cylinder by slamming the cylinder open and shut with a flick of the wrist, “Force cocking” the hammer in single action by yanking the hammer back, and by firing double action by jerking the trigger as hard and fast as possible.
  • The older, pre-WWII revolvers had softer, more easily sprung cylinder cranes, and these bent easier by slamming the cylinder around.
  • Force cocking the hammer and jerking the trigger cause major battering of the cylinder locking notches, the locking bolt, the ejector, and the frame.
  • More experienced double action shooters usually learn how to “roll the trigger”. This allows very fast DA shooting but causes much less wear.
  • Revolvers are tough guns, but they require more delicate treatment than automatics do.
  • No matter HOW sturdy and strong a revolver is, mistreat it and it WILL have problems.

There is no telling how many rounds have been fired in this revolver, but you can tell by the images that follow, there have been quite a few. This Smith & Wesson Model 617 has never been cleaned since it became a range rental.

The entire face of the cylinder is coated with burnt on carbon fouling!
Plenty of carbon fouling to go around!
Carbon fouling even on the rear of the cylinder to include under the extractor star.

The chambers of the cylinder were in a state where several cartridges had to be pushed firmly into place in order for them to seat properly. To remove spent shells, the extractor rod had to be slammed open, as a simple push was not going to remove spent shells from the chambers. In fact, some newly chambered cartridges would not just fall out of the chamber as they should. 

Additionally, the rear sight was set for a 6 o’clock hold at 7-yards, which is not my preferred sight picture. However, and since this is a range rental, I decided to leave the rear sight set as is and work around the issue.

The Smith & Wesson Model 617, as was mentioned, is a “K” frame revolver capable of firing cartridges from .22 Short to .22 Long Rifle, and .22 Long Rifle is the revolver’s forte. Its purpose, according to Smith & Wesson, is: Competition Shooting, Enthusiast, Recreational Shooting, State Compliance; whereas, the latter refers to the 10-round capacity.

Most who have been around Smith & Wesson revolvers know that the actions are, for the most part, very good. I was curious as to how the action was in the S&W 617 because as we know, rimfire actions tend to be on the heavy side due to the nature of the cartridge being fired and this example was not in stellar condition. The action on this particular Smith & Wesson Model 617, regardless of the filth built up in the revolver, operated flawlessly. Although gritty from residue, the double-action pull was typical Smith & Wesson; albeit, heavy due to the .22 caliber nature of the revolver, but not near as heavy as the Ruger SP101. “Stacking’ the trigger in double-action mode was also typical Smith & Wesson, where the “stacking” point is easily found and held for as long as you wish to hold it. In single-action mode, there was no take-up nor over-travel. Accuracy left something to be desired, but the something was needing better sights and better eyes. The blackened, target-type sights are fine, but the front sight needs a touch of paint for my old eyes. With that said, the accuracy was fine and was as good as I could conjure up at this time. A decision was made, based on what I observed as differences between the Ruger SP101 and the Smith & Wesson Model 617, and a Smith & Wesson Model 617 with a 4-inch barrel was ordered soon after I arrived home. And so, the remainder of this review is about the Smith & Wesson Model 617 that is now a family member.

The Smith & Wesson Model 617 arrived at my gun club and range a few days later. I really didn’t know what to expect, as this item was the last shown on inventory from the source and you never know if it was last for a reason or if it just did fall out that way in the course of the inventory.

The Smith & Wesson came in the usual Smith & Wesson plastic case complete with cable lock and owner’s manual. It looked to be pretty lonely in all of its bare beauty.

A quick look-see inspection revealed that the Smith & Wesson would come home with me, as if I had a choice, as the revolver was already paid for through an on-line transaction. You see,  even if there was an issue, I could not return it to the supplier. It would have to go back to Smith & Wesson or to a qualified gunsmith.

The requisite 4473 gun registration form was completed, the transfer fee paid, and I came into possession of a brand-spankin’ new four-inch Smith & Wesson Model 617 .22 caliber revolver.

The Basics

Specifications

Model: Model 617
Caliber: .22 LR
Capacity: 10
Barrel
Length:
4″ (15.2 cm)
Overall Length: 11.1″
Front Sight: Patridge
Rear Sight: Adjustable
Action: Single/Double Action
Grip: Synthetic
Weight: 44.1 oz. (2 pounds, 12 ounces)
Cylinder
Material:
Stainless Steel
Barrel
Material:
Stainless Steel
Frame
Material:
Stainless Steel
Frame
Finish:
Satin Stainless
Purpose: Competition Shooting, Enthusiast, Recreational Shooting, State Compliance
MSRP: $829.00 (Suggested Retail, Dealer Sets Actual Pricing)

Recently I had purchased a Smith and Wesson Model 686 .357 Magnum Revolver, a range rental revolver in excellent condition. Looking at the image below, you can see the similarities with the Smith & Wesson Model 686 4-inch version (left) and the Smith & Wesson Model 617 4-inch version (right).

The Smith & Wesson Model 686 weighs in at 39.7 oz (2 pounds 7.7 ounces) and fires six .38 Special or six .357 Magnum cartridges. The Smith & Wesson Model 617 actually weighs more than the Model 686 at 44.1 oz. (2 pounds, 12 ounces) and fires ten .22 Short, .22 Long, or .22 Long Rifle (LR) cartridges. Needless to say, the felt recoil of the Model 617 is negligible.

The finish of the Smith & Wesson Model 617, like that of the Model 686, is satin stainless with the only contrasting accents being the sights, trigger, hammer, and finger-groove mono-grip. This makes the Model 617 the perfect cheap-practice substitute for the Model 686, although not exactly cheap in up-front cost.

The fit and finish of the Model 617 is excellent. The stainless-steel is, of course, more impervious to weather than blued-steel. It is also easier to maintain, as polishing will not hurt any stainless-steel surface on this revolver. When cleaning the face of the cylinder, the forcing cone, and the cylinder extractor star area, usually a bronze cleaning brush and some carbon remover is all it takes – and it will not harm the finish, but if the finish were blued-steel well…that is another story.

In the hand, the Model 617 feels and handles like its big brother the Model 686, although it is slightly smaller being a “K” frame revolver. The weight, although some would say is excessive for a revolver that fires the lowly .22 LR, says that this revolver is not a mere toy. The grip (shown below) is excellent and fits in my hand like it belongs there. The standard grip has finger-grooves and a palm swell. I found these to be excellent with my Smith & Wesson Model 686 and they feel no different on the Smith & Wesson Model 617.

While the standard grips are great, custom grips are greater as they add that personalized touch. Perusing the Altamont Company website, I came a across the SKR-BCO6-SPD, a S&W K/L Round Conversion BATELELEUR Silverback Spanish Diamond grip. The fit is excellent and the look not only enchanting but serviceable. .

The diamond pattern is excellent and provides a good gripping surface even in wet weather or if the hands are wet. The BATELELEUR style converts a round butt frame into a semi-square butt grip, which is very comfortable in the hand.

In the hand, you just want to roll that hammer back, squeeze the trigger, and let that hammer drop, which you can do, but I and Smith & Wesson agree that this revolver should not be “dry fired” unless you want to peen the chambers of the cylinder. I have used #4-6 plastic anchors in the past with good results; albeit, they must be changed frequently. However, changing these out is much cheaper than replacing a damaged cylinder. They may be good for two or three impacts from the hammer.

Although the Smith & Wesson Model 617 is chambered for the .22 caliber, the barrel/cylinder gap (forcing cone (flash) gap) is as important as that found on larger caliber revolvers. On this revolver, the barrel/cylinder gap (forcing cone gap) is less than 0.004 inch.

Although the revolver is brand new, it is still checked for proper timing and proper sizing of each chamber of the cylinder. After which, the revolver will be lubricated according to the manufacturer’s recommendations (if provided). Finally, it receives a wipe-down and is prepped for transportation to the range or storage; whichever is appropriate. This time, it will be going to the range.

Range Time

The Smith & Wesson Model 617 has a 10-shot cylinder, with each chamber recessed. Timing and lock-up is impeccable and solid. The weight and bulk of the Model 617 belies its chambering, as it is something that you would equate with a larger caliber (incidentally, Smith & Wesson, the Model 617 would make an excellent .22 WMR firearm, even though there is the Model 48).

It is claimed, by Smith & Wesson, that the Model 617 has a Performance Center trigger, and there may be some truth in that statement. The trigger is absolutely one of the nicest trigger I have ever pulled on a .22 caliber double-action revolver.

The beauty of .22 caliber revolvers is their appetite for anything that you want to feed them, within reason. Setting a silhouette target at 7-yards for initial accuracy testing for the Smith & Wesson Model 671, I felt, was shortchanging this revolver. The revolver ate 40-grain Federal Target Grade Performance ammunition just as well as CCI 36-grain Mini-Mag, just as well as 40-grain Remington Thunderbolt. 

For this first outing, I was primarily concerned with the functioning of the Model 617 out of the box. I would stretch the distance out during subsequent outings.

The bane of .22 caliber revolvers is fouling; lead, copper, carbon, etc. Fouling can permeate rifling, the face of cylinders, inside actions, forcing cones, and cylinder chambers to the point that, if not kept in check, will literally prevent a firearm from functioning properly.

Unless we are at a range plinking or target shooting, rarely would a .22 revolver be shot enough to empty a cylinder, for example, hunting or rodent control. It is common for someone who is shooting a .22 caliber firearm for practice or sport to go through several hundred rounds in a single sitting. After all, .22 caliber ammunition is relatively cheap, and has less recoil and noise compared to shooting even 9mm ammunition.  It is; however, dirtier than other ammunition. 

After about fifty rounds of .22 LR, I run a Bore-Snake through the barrel to help keep fouling at a minimum. For a revolver, each chamber is also treated to a Bore-Snake. A quick brushing of the cylinder face and forcing cone with a nylon or bronze cleaning brush follows. I also do a follow-up of brushing the cylinder star and checking beneath the extractor for anything that would prevent a cartridge from being fully chambered. While this may seem time consuming, and time may cost you money at the range, it only takes a few minutes and can save you a world of grief later. Luckily, I am a member of my gun club and range fees are covered in my membership dues. Of course, what follows is a more thorough cleaning of the firearm when I get home.

Also, Smith & Wesson imparts this information:

  • Some brands of ammunition may cause difficulty in extracting spent cartridge cases from the cylinder or chamber. If this situation occurs, thoroughly clean the cylinder charge holes or chamber with solvent. If this condition persists, we recommend changing to another brand of ammunition.
  • Smith & Wesson has found wide variations in primer sensitivity between some brands and types of 22 LR ammunition. Smith & Wesson recommends that before you put your 22 LR handgun into regular use, that you fire several boxes of your brand of ammunition through it to determine reliability of ignition. If “failure to fire” occurs, try different types or brands of 22 LR ammunition until a reliable loading is found.

I experienced no failures to fire nor any signs of hang-ups.

I did have to adjust the rear sight for my preferred sight picture.

The Whine and Jeeze Party

  1. Occasionally, and after shooting about 500 rounds through it, the trigger may start to feel gritty and need to be sprayed with a cleaner/lubricant like CLP or Ballistol.
  2. After several hundred rounds the cylinder chambers will become dirty and the spent casings will become hard to eject.
  3. The sights are hard to see with my aging eyesight and out of date glasses. I will probably replace them with sights most suitable to my vision – and get my eyes checked.
  4. The trigger action when used in single action shooting requires only a light touch. When shooting double action, the trigger is not as smooth as some but is better than others.
  5. The Smith & Wesson Model 617 Revolver is not the quickest gun to clean. Because it has 10 chambers, one barrel, and plenty of nooks and crannies, the gun takes a while to clean. Welcome to the world of revolvers.

Personal Improvements

Polishing and changing out the grips and sights is about all I can do to this gun. The grip I find adequate and to my liking, although it has been personalized with new grips. Enter the Altamont Company. The sights, for general target shooting and plinking are sufficient. For use in hunting and varmint control, I would need something better.

Concealed Carry

Yes, you can, but why would you? The Smith & Wesson Model 617, I doubt, was ever intended for concealed carry. That’s not saying; however, that you can’t carry it concealed. It is just saying that there are better caliber options available in a full-size revolver.

I have a Sourdough Pancake™ holster from Simply Rugged in which I have carried my 4-inch barreled GP100 concealed behind my right hip. The holster will also house the Smith & Wesson Model 617, or the 4-inch barreled Smith & Wesson Model 686. If I had the propensity, once again, to conceal a revolver, it would be a Ruger 3-inch GP 100 or a Smith & Wesson 3-inch Model 686, both in .357 Magnum, and not the Smith & Wesson Model 617. However, I could use my Bianchi 5BHL or the Bianchi Model 111 Cyclone™ Belt Holster in a cross-draw carry for a woods walk or range work under a vest or outer coat/jacket for any of these revolvers. Of the Bianchi holsters, the Model 111 Cyclone is my preferred holster due to the trigger protection.

Summary

The Smith & Wesson Model 617 is considered, by some, as the ‘understudy’ for the Smith & Wesson Model 686 357 magnum revolver. If you are not quite sure what is being meant here, an understudy is one who is prepared to act another’s part or take over another’s duties. If you carry the Smith & Wesson Model 686, the Smith & Wesson Model 617 could serve as a substitute in training for the Model 686; whereas, it may be too costly to shoot the Model 686 on a consistent and recurring bases; whereas, the Model 617, in its .22 LR chambering, would be a more cost-friendly option given the physical similarities between the two revolvers.

If you have the money for a Smith & Wesson Model 617, you’ll be getting one of the best 10-shot double-action .22 revolvers made. The price for these revolvers was a primary reason for me holding off on buying one for many years and I was just content with my reliable single-action revolvers, but the Smith & Wesson Model 617 was on the “bucket’ list and had to be addressed one way or the other. Now that one is finally in-house, I realize that I should not have waited. However, and for the price, you could pick up a good 1911, or a Glock and a thousand rounds of ammo for it, or any number of things. But for shear shooting sport, the Smith & Wesson Model 617 is a hands-down winner.

The trigger lock may turn some off. Personally, I have not had an issue with them, because I don’t use them.

The Smith & Wesson 617 is an ideal gun for your shooting entertainment at the range, reducing training and practice cost thanks to the affordability of the .22 caliber. The gun’s cost/benefit ratio – proven reliability and accuracy make it a desirable firearm. As Smith & Wesson states, the Model 617 can be used for; Competition Shooting, Enthusiast, Recreational Shooting, State Compliance, and where allowed, hunting and rodent control. For me, and barring the ownership fee, it is simply a fun gun to shoot for not much cost at all.

Resources

Gallery

About Taurian

Taurian is an Oath Keeper, veteran, former LEO and Defensive Tactics Instructor. Until retirement, Taurian had over forty-seven years of experience as a Technical Writer and Training Program Developer. After leaving home at the age of ten without any shoes, Taurian continues on with many years devoted to the keeping and bearing of arms.

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