Smith and Wesson Model 686 .357 Magnum Revolver

A Visit with a Friend From the Past

There was a time when I was a LEO, a Sheriff’s Deputy, in fact.  When I was first hired, the department that I worked for, a suburb of Atlanta, allowed us to carry anything we wanted (at our expense) short of a .44 magnum. My choice of firearms was the Colt MKIV “80 Series” Government Model 1911 in .45 ACP chambering. Carried “Condition 1” in a secure holster, the Colt served me well through qualifications and street use. Heck, even a State Court Judge carried one under his robe everyday while in and out of court.

Some of the powers-that-be; however, took exception to my choice of firearm, although I had demonstrated that it was one of the safest firearms known to man, while dangerous enough to take care of police business when called upon. I was forced to decide on (again, at my expense) a different sidearm that could be a pistol but had to be double-action/single-action because carrying in double-action mode was (supposedly safer) than “Condition 1” carry. While expecting me to purchase a Beretta 92FS, because that was the most popular firearm of many LE agencies throughout the country, at the time. However, that was not my choice. A Sig Sauer P220 in .45 ACP soon was stuffed into a security holster (again at my cost), and like the Colt MKIV “80 Series” Government Model 1911 in .45 ACP chambering, the Sig Sauer P220 served me well during qualification and street situations. Unfortunately, my partnership with the Sig Sauer P220 was short-lived.

The department, to standardize things after new management took over, issued a new firearm. At least I didn’t have to buy one, but I did have to buy leather that meet company standards. While I half-expected the department to issue the Beretta 92FS. To my surprise, it did not. Instead, a new and shiny Smith and Wesson Model 686 was signed over to me. To me, it was a step backward. But, at least, it could be stoked with six cartridges of 125-grain .357 magnum ammunition, and I somewhat forgave management for hindering me with this revolver as a duty weapon.

The revolver had a heavy double-action. The department armorer did an excellent polishing job on the action that, even though the action was still heavy, it was smooth as glass. I learned where the “staging” point was with that revolver and practiced using that “staging” point until it almost became second nature. You see, we were not allowed to use single-action during qualification or “duty” use, but somebody who could manipulate the “staging” point had a definite advantage over those who could not.

My first qualification with the Smith and Wesson 686 resulted in scoring expert. That would not have happened had I not spent some time with it at my local gun club and range. The department decided that it needed a team of shooters that could represent the department against other departments in police “bullseye’ competition. I found myself with four other officers that qualified high in qualifications, and we soon found ourselves traveling to complete with other departments.

Because of the need to practice a lot, I decided to start hand loading my own competition ammunition, which had to be .38 Special 147- grain wad-cutter. I was able to pull off several 2nd place finishes with the Smith and Wesson 686 and a good recipe for ammunition. I wish that I could brag about taking top spot, but somehow it evaded me in the short time that I had left with the department.

Unfortunately, I did have to leave the department of my own volition, but in doing so, I also had to relinquish the Smith and Wesson Model 686. It would many years before I would shoot one again, and for some reason, I wanted another one, but the Ruger GP100 would come into my possession and I felt no need for another .357 magnum revolver, with an exception with the Ruger SP101 that was carried on several occasions in an IWB holster.

My local gun club and range, of which I am a member, has several Smith and Wesson 686 revolvers as range rentals. I rarely shot them, simply because it would be likened to trying to quit smoking; if you smoke one you are off the wagon and that leads to another, and that leads to another. With the Smith and Wesson 686, I would be enticed into having one of my own, so I just shied away from it.

Last month, the gun club put several of their range rentals up for sale for an excellent price. One of those range rentals was one of the Smith and Wesson 686 revolvers. Ayup! The web was spun, and I was soon to be ensnared. The revolver was dirty, very dirty, but otherwise it seems in good condition. The action was tight, and the timing seemed to be right on. The trigger pull was smooth (due to being shot). The sights were in good shape. Some minor scratches were present, but this was a range gun, and some scratches are expected. None were deep and most would take to some polishing. One thing about range rental revolvers; they are not as popular to shoot as semi-automatic pistols. Most folks want to shoot a Shield, or a Glock, or something semi-automatic. Because of that. Most range rental revolvers are in pretty good shape unless some yahoo is trying out hot hand loads and he is so unsure of his loadings that he won’t risk putting them though his own firearms.

Anyway, I managed to talk the range manager down a bit on price to an even figure, the 4473 was completed, money changed hands, and I was once again a proud owner of a Smith and Wesson Model 686.

The second thing to do upon arriving home with my new old revolver was to clean it up. Some carbon remover liquid, a chemically-treated cloth, and a bronze brush soon made short work of removing who knows how much built-up carbon from the cylinder face and forcing cone. The barrel, surprisingly, came clean after a few swipes of a bore snake treated with some Ballistol. Some work with Flitz and red polishing rouge on a polishing wheel started bringing out the beauty of that stainless-steel of the 686.  While not perfect, the old “Smitty” was starting to look good. The beauty of stainless steel is that you can clean and polish without affecting bluing or other protective finishes. Stainless steel like that found on the Smith and Wesson 686, loves polishing and buffing.

This Smith and Wesson Model 686 has a 4-inch barrel, as did my old duty revolver. The red insert of the front side is slightly worn, but still adequate for sighting purposes.

The grips are Hogue rubber, finger-groove grips with a palm swell – and I like them over the old Goncalo Alves hardwood grips.  My “Duty” Smith and Wesson Model 686 was later stocked with a set of Hogue hardwood finger-groove grips. However, I have since grown up and all my revolvers are stocked with Hogue rubber finger-groove grips where I feel the need.

The styling of the Smith and Wesson Model 686 is what drew me to the revolver when it was first handed to me. The full-underlug, the smoothing of lines, the blending of the barrel to the frame, all said (to me) that this was a quality firearm.  You see, perhaps I was the only one that I knew that was not enamored by revolver like the Colt Python or Colt Diamondback. By comparison, in my opinion, the Smith and Wesson Model 686 was a working man’s gun, and the Ruger GP100 even more so. I had read quite a bit about the Colt’s weak lock work, and that outweighed any good-looking, ventilated ribbed hand gun. The “L-framed” Smith and Wesson Model 686 would spit out full-load .357 magnum projectiles until you didn’t want to shoot them anymore. The Colt Python, not so much. With that said; however, the Colt Python would fetch the better sale price, as compared to the Smith and Wesson Model 686. It’s just a matter of flash over substance, and that is something that we are all guilty of selecting at times.

It should be evident that the Smith and Wesson Model 686 is a full-size fighting handgun. The weight is 2 lb. 12 oz (1.25 kg) unloaded, and it is well suited for a duty security holster or excellent OWB holster mounted on a healthy gun belt. If you don’t care for stainless-steel, the Smith and Wesson Model 586 is the blued-steel version. But, can you accept that the Smith and Wesson Model 686 could be concealed? Anything is possible depending on several factors. A vertical shoulder holster might be just right for the 4-inch and 6-inch barreled version, or a horizontal should holster just might work with the 3-inch barreled version. A good IWB holster could house the revolver right behind the hip. I have been able to effectively conceal a Ruger 4.20-inch GP100 in an IWB holster from Simply Rugged with the proper combination of clothing and support gear (suspenders), but I can’t say that I would like to do this every day.

The Smith and Wesson Model 686 is also available in a seven-shot version, if you prefer that sort of thing. The downside is that there is less material between chambers, which is fine for shooting .38 special, but not for firing hot .357 magnum hunting loads. I’ll stick with the 6-shot model, thank you.

Range Time

At this point, let me take you to the range with the Smith and Wesson Model 686.

I prefer shooting any cartridge through a .357 magnum chamber with .357 magnum case dimensions, even if ammunition loaded to .38 special velocities. I know that doesn’t make sense to some, but I have some reasoning that is beyond the scope of this article.

This Smith and Wesson Model 686 really likes 125-grain JHP as much as it does standard .38 special 158-grain SWCHP. It is more accurate than I am, but I could still qualify expert in a police force qualification and could probably still out-shoot some semi-automatic operators with it; albeit, I would have to improve my speed-loading skills. From a combat distance of seven-yards to twenty-five yards, you should have no problem keeping things within the 9-ring if you do your part.

The flash gap (the gap between the face of the cylinder and the forcing cone of the barrel) was measured at somewhere around 0.001 inch, but it is still wise that shooters keep their digits away from the front of the cylinder when firing the revolver. With full-load .357 magnum being fired, the muzzle flash can be quite intense

Felt recoil from a 125-grain JHP in .357 magnum loading can be intimidating for someone not used to the cartridge and to some that are. The felt recoil is very ‘snappy’ and requires a full, strong grip to control it. Even with the provide rubber grips, the recoil comes straight back into the hand and the open back-strap of the grip puts the stainless steel back-strap of the revolver straight into the palm of the hand. Using a high ‘thumb-over‘ gripping technique can mitigate the felt recoil (to a point) while controlling muzzle flip.

Depending on the ammunition and firearm, shooting the .357 magnum can be an en’lightening’ experience, in that the cartridge produces an impressive fireball at the muzzle end (muzzle blast) when the bullet leaves the end of the firearm and also at the forcing cone (side blast).

It should be obvious that when firing a revolver the support hand should be well away from both muzzle and cylinder areas, regardless of caliber. Using a high ‘thumb-over‘ gripping technique can mitigate injury from ‘side blast.’

At the range, the Smith and Wesson Model 686 ruled the day. There were no FTFs, FTEs, as found in semi-automatics. There was double-strike capability but none was needed. The Smith and Wesson Model 686 felt very good in the hand and is open for business; A break-in period is not required.


The Smith and Wesson Model 686 is just one of those “must have” firearms. I fought the urge of owning another one quite successfully over the years, but the revolver was on my bucket list and I was able to own another own; albeit used, but no matter.

Chambered for .357 Magnum and 38 S&W SPECIAL +P, you have a wide variety of ammunition from which to choose. The Smith and Wesson Model 686  is just an all-around revolver that fires an all-around cartridge that has a reputation for taking care of business whether it be personal defense, home defense, or hunting.

And, for those who prefer shooting a 9mm, well here ya’ go. The bullet diameter of the .38/.357 is 9.1 mm and you get to shoot a 125-grain projectile at approximately 1,450 ft/s (440 m/s) with an energy figure around 583 ft⋅lbs (790 J), or a 158-grain projectile around 1,240 ft/s (380 m/s) with an energy figure around 539 ft⋅lbs (731 J), among others.

Pair this revolver up with a good lever-action or bolt-action pistol-caliber long gun that can enhance the velocity of the .357 magnum cartridge, and you would not be under-gunned.

Of course, the down-side is the lack of capacity as compared to high-capacity semi-automatic firearms. But they may have an upside. If you have to do with less, you will maximize your practice time to ensure that each bullet hits its mark rather than doing magazine dumps and not considering what you may hit when you miss your target. Aim small, miss small. One shot, one drop…shot placement over shot volume. Learn how to effectively use speed loaders and speed strips. When I carry a revolver, I normally carry one of each; a speed loader on a belt pouch and a speed strip in a right-hand pocket.

Revolvers have been around since the late 16th century, but in 1836 Samuel Colt brought the revolver into more modern history, and in 1889 the first double-action revolver was introduced. Revolvers are not going away.


Smith and Wesson Model 686:

Categories: Carry, Firearms, Revolver, Shooting Tags: ,

About Taurian

Taurian is a U.S. Army veteran and former LEO and Defensive Tactics Instructor. Taurian also has over fifty 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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