Range Report: Rock Island M206 .38 Special

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms, Range Reports

I feel, among the best all-around defensive handguns for home use is the .38 Special revolver with a short barrel. The short-barreled .38 offers a host of advantages over the auto loader and a time-tested track record second to none.

Armscor M206 Revolver left profile

The Rock .38 Special may do a credible job defending the home.

The double-action revolver is simple enough for the occasional user. The .38 Special isn’t our most powerful cartridge, but it has all of the recoil that the occasional shooter wishes to handle. With proper loads, it will serve for personal defense.

A double-action revolver offers plenty of leverage in the case of a struggle for the handgun if the shooter hangs onto the grip—the short barrel limits the felons leverage if they get their hands on your handgun. Another advantage is that a revolver may be fired, time after time, when thrust into the adversary’s body, which isn’t true of a self-loader.

The problem is that a reliable revolver at a fair price is difficult to find. Among the best buys on the market is the Armscor Model 206—a 2-inch barrel .38 Special revolver. The M206 isn’t the prettiest revolver you will ever see. It is designed to sell for around $250. This means the final finish isn’t going to be satin blue. The parkerized finish is businesslike. There are tool marks visible internally, and the overall look is that of an economically-priced revolver.

Armscor M206 revolver left, Smith and Wesson 442 revolver right

The M206 revolver compared to the Smith and Wesson 442.

The M206 bears a close resemblance to Colt revolvers. The cylinder release pulls to the rear in the Colt fashion. The cylinder holds six shots and rotates to the right. The sights are broad and easy to use well, although I added red paint to the front sight to allow proper sighting. The matte colored front sight faded from view as issued. The action is more similar to Smith and Wesson than Colt, but what matters is that the revolver fires with every press of the trigger.

The ejector rod is shrouded under the barrel. The hammer spur is long and easily cocked for single action fire. But be careful in firing as the long hammer spur may butt into the web of your hand if you let the revolver slip during recoil. The grip is adequate for all but the largest hand sizes. Overall, the Model 206 should be nearly as concealable as a five shot small frame revolver. For home defense, the Model 206 .38 will give those on a budget much piece of mind.

Rock Island Armory M206

Caliber: .38 Spl.
Finish: Matte Parkerized
Grips: Checkered Hardwood
Sights: Fixed
Width: 1.40″
Barrel Length: 2.15″
Overall Length: 7.75″
Weight: 25 ozs.
Capacity: 6 rounds

In handling the revolver, the ejector rod stroke was positive and emptied all spent cartridge cases with a single stroke. Trigger action was smooth enough for good double action work. It isn’t as nice as more expensive revolvers, but it has become smoother with use. The double action press is tractable enough for accurate shooting at typical personal defense range, and the reset is fast enough to allow a trained shooter to fire the pistol both accurately and fast.

During the initial evaluation, I broke out a good supply of Winchester’s 158-grain RNL. This load is affordable and burns clean, all we can ask of practice ammunition. I began firing the revolver at 7 yards and continued until I had the measure of the M206. Placing the front sight on the X-ring of a man-sized target, I got a center hit time and again. Aim, confirm the sight alignment and sight picture, press the trigger to the rear smoothly and you have a hit. Allow the trigger to reset and press again and you have another hit.

Fifty rounds of Winchester .38 Special were well centered. This isn’t the revolver for a steady diet of +P loads, in my opinion. A 25-ounce .38 might kick and buck too much for most shooters when loaded with +P ammunition and there is also wear on small parts to consider.

Next, I fired a box of Precision Delta 148-grain wadcutters. This is the classic .38 Special target load. At 703 fps from the two-inch .38’s barrel, it was mild to fire. Accuracy in single-action fire was good for this class of handgun. This is a good training load. The revolver fires high on the order of about three inches at 10 yards with 148- to 158-grain loads. The revolver seems sighted for 110 to 125-grain defense loads.

Accuracy: Fired From a Bullshooter’s Rest, 15 Yards, 5-shot Group

Load Average of two groups
Winchester Train and Defend 130-grain FMJ 3.55 inch
Winchester 158-grain RNL 2.95 inch
Winchester 125-grain Silvertip +P 2.5 inch
Precision Delta 148-grain Wadcutter 2.5 inch
Bob Campbell shooting the M206 revolver offhand

Firing off hand, the M206 was comfortable to fire and well balanced.

The .38 Special needs +P loads for performance and despite my warning considering wear, for occasional use the +P will be chosen by most shooters. I selected the Winchester Silvertip +P. This load uses a light bullet at high velocity. Average velocity was 970 fps with the 125-grain alloy jacketed hollow point. This is outstanding from a two-inch barrel. Recoil wasn’t difficult to master and the bullet expanded well.

I fired three full cylinders through the Armscor M206 with good results. I also fired a couple of the Silvertip hollow points into water to test expansion. Performance left little to be desired. Managing to design a bullet that expands well at two-inch barrel .38 velocity isn’t easy. The Silvertip makes the grade.

The last test was to fire the revolver from a solid benchrest to confirm accuracy potential. I fired at 15 yards, which is a long shot for self defense. This tells a lot about the revolver’s quality and accuracy potential. I recorded several 3-inch groups at this range. The Armscor is clearly a suitable handgun for personal defense and one that should be on the short list of anyone in need of a personal defense handgun who strapped for cash.

Do you prefer a revolver for self-defense? What’s your impression of, or experience with, Armscor’s M206 revolver? Share your answers in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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Comments (14)

  • Edward Hazzard

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    I have a M206 in my collection. For the most part I enjoy shooting it. My one complaint are the grips. The wood grips that Armscor ships are too small for my hands and the plastic grips are uncomfortable. There are, to my knowledge, no aftermarket grips for this revolver. I’ve tried re-shaping a set of older Pachmayr grips that were designed for the Colt. They work better but not as well as I’d like them to.

    Reply

  • Leslie S

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    Bought a 206 at a gun show for the low Price. Breaking in was a pain but after it’s a good shooter. Can’t judge a book by the cover.

    Reply

  • James Perkey

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    I own 2 RIA 1911’s & it really opened my eyes to the “cheaper” manufacturer!! I absolutely LOVE my RIA10mm & 45acp!! I also carry them! The guns are better than great in my opinion!!! So I would not be afraid to try this revolver out for a budget price like that!!

    Reply

  • usafoldsarge

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    I carry, in my pocket, a SW Airweight .38 +P. I hate firing anymore than I have to.. Even using wad cutters, after about 10 rounds, the web in my hand hurts like He**. Even at that, before I finish shooting, I will fire 5 rounds of 165 gr +P hollow points. Just to remind me that I carry this weapon for self protection, and not for plinking. It is light, no hammer to hang up on anything and easier to get at than a waist mounted weapon. For fun shooting, I will stick with my Taurus PT .40SW, and my big Ruger Blackhawk 357 mag. My last rounds in these are heavy hollow points.

    Reply

  • Chris Kelly

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    I picked up a 206 a couple of years ago as an addition to my collection and was taking it to the range on Saturdays for the next month, during which I found it to be not only very enjoyable to shoot, but also accurate enough to add it in to my concealed carry rotation. I highly recommend one of these as an addition to anyone.

    Reply

  • Andy

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    The article sounded like the pistol was for home defense. My issued revolver at the time was a 4 inch bull barrel model SW model 10 and it was a bear to carry concealed. That is why the two inch was my off duty weapon. Easier to carry. If it is for home defense then the standard size revolver is better. For carry the two inch. The compromise weapon would be for the 6 shot two inch.

    Reply

    • Vom Brunhaus

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      Have a model 10 2 inch from 1972 very nice gun . Accurate and easy to maintain , put Hogue Rubber finger grooves grips on .

      Reply

  • Adam

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    I once read a comment that semi-auto pistols are better at handling abuse while revolvers are better at handling neglect. For the occasional shooter who will fire their gun only a few times a year and rarely (if ever) clean it, a revolver is an excellent choice.

    Hence why revolvers were so popular with law enforcement well into the late 80s.

    Reply

    • RKC

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      You are spot on with that

      Reply

  • Andy

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    I carried a Chief’s Special for 16 years mostly off duty but on duty as well as a plainclothes officer. It is a very hard to shoot this gun accurately without adequate training and has more recoil especially in +P loads. It is a fine reliable weapon but its diminutive cylinder and extractor make reloading under in stress more difficult than its larger brethren. At the risk of the bad guy being able to leverage the longer barrel notwithstanding I think the larger .38 with larger cylinder and controls is better with accuracy, reloading and recoil.

    Reply

    • Adam

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      Larger guns in the same caliber will have milder recoil. This is due to having more mass to oppose the recoil and having more room for your hands on the grip. Even something as seemingly minor as getting all three fingers of the firing hand on the grip will make a noticeable difference.

      The advantage of a smaller gun is that you’re more likely to carry it regularly. Better to have a smaller gun you can shoot adequately on your person than a larger gun you can shoot superbly left in the safe because it was too large and/or heavy to take with you.

      Reply

  • DaveW

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    I have a strong like for my S&W Mod 60 .38Spl.

    Reply

  • Dave Gilmer

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    Sounds like where Taurus revolvers were 40 years ago – a little rough, but most were generally serviceable, especially when price was considered.

    Reply

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