I am not one who waxes poetic over the great revolvers of the past. Sure, a Triple Lock or an early .38-44 is an interesting firearm. Modern revolvers from Smith and Wesson have certain advantages. The steels are better. But then, this is a trade-off as some models use MIM action parts.
Still these parts will stand a lot of use, so long as you don’t abuse them or attempt to modify the MIM parts. The precision fit of the chamber and barrel throats are better than ever, resulting in the most accurate revolvers of all time. These handguns also feature quality, fully adjustable, rear sights — and in some cases, an adjustable front sight set in a beavertail groove.
I decided to retire or trade several of my long serving .38 Special, .357 Magnum, and .45 Colt handguns. I wanted to end up with a superior handgun suitable for protection against dangerous animals as well as protection against criminals. I did not wish the handgun to be so specialized or heavy that it would be too large to carry daily. The .357 Magnum cartridge seemed right for this role.
S&W 686 Features
The Smith & Wesson 686 is a mid-size frame revolver that is well-suited to personal defense. While the frame is heavier than the K-Frame revolver, the round butt grip is the same size as the K-Frame. This grip fits most hands well and makes for good control. The extra steel in the frame helps to cushion recoil.
In the Performance Center piece, a flat-sided, target-grade, 2.5-inch barrel, and unfluted 7-shot cylinder are good features. The action seems smoother than comparable modern Smith and Wesson revolvers. The grips are superb and offer an excellent platform for handling recoil.
The S&W 686 Plus is a seven-shot revolver. Six shots are perhaps a little short in a defensive situation. One extra shot is good to have. The cylinder is cut for fast loading moon clips, a custom addition that is much more affordable in this factory handgun.
Model: 686 Plus (Performance Center)
Frame size: L-Frame
Caliber: .357 Magnum / .38 Special +P
Action: Double Action / Singe Action
Capacity: 7 rounds
Barrel length: 2.5 inches
Front sight: Red ramp
Rear sight: Adjustable
Overall length: 7.5 inches
Weight: 35 ounces
Barrel material: Stainless steel
Cylinder material: Stainless steel
Frame material: Stainless steel
Finish: Matte Glass Bead Blast
I test fired the revolver and found it to be good. The action was smooth, and accuracy was exceptional for a short-barrel revolver. Next, I chose to look at the pros and cons of this revolver for hard use. While there are revolvers with adjustable sights that have been in use for decades, I have seen quite a few with the rear sight knocked off, knocked out of whack by contact with a door jamb or car door, or simply dropped and broken.
They don’t seem to wear out, but they are too fragile for my intended use. Since the front sight is windage adjustable it would not be difficult to sight the revolver in, once I added a set of rugged fixed sights. It isn’t difficult at all to change the rear sight out.
Simply remove the original sight by taking out the single stabilizing screw. The rear sight is also held in by butting into the top strap in a small trough in the rear. Slip the sight to the rear.
Modern S&W revolvers such as this one feature three holes drilled for optional mounts and sights. Slip the rear sight into place and then button it down. I had a very small adjustment to make with the front sight at this point.
My next move may be controversial. If it isn’t for you, don’t consider this move. However, the Smith & Wesson action lock isn’t a safety. We are not removing a safety lever, firing pin block, or a safety feature we find superfluous.
The action lock is a relic of a past that has nothing to do with current Smith & Wesson owners and management. Some jurisdictions may require some type of lock. The problem is that there have been well documented failures of the lock — including one in my own hands.
The chances are very small, and there have been very few of these locks to fail. I am eliminating that possibility. Online, you can find replacement kits. The lock is removed, and a small stud is placed in the hole left by the lock’s removal.
The 686 Plus isn’t a small revolver, but it isn’t the largest handgun either. It is remarkably well balanced. I took the upgraded revolver to the range with a wide choice of .38 Special and .357 Magnum ammunition.
Five-shot Accuracy 25 Yards Using a Solid Rest
Remington 130-grain FMJ 2.0 inches
Remington 158-grain RNL 2.4 inches
Hornady 125-grain Critical Defense 1.75 inches
Remington 125-grain JSP 1.9 inches
With .38 Special loads, this is a cream puff easily handled in rapid fire and very accurate. Moving to .38 Special +P, such as the Federal Punch, I found the handgun remained docile. For those preferring a revolver for home defense, you would be hard-pressed to find a better combination.
Moving to the .357 Magnum, I fired a good mix of 125-grain JHP from Federal and Remington. These loads clocked about 1,300 fps from the 2.5-inch barrel, and still developed a lot of thump! (A four-inch barrel revolver has a more complete powder burn and will generate about 1,400 fps.) The magnums remained controllable.
The revolver is well balanced and has enough weight to make firing full-power magnum loads viable. This is a versatile handgun that offers a high degree of protection. It will be on my hip a great deal in the foreseeable future and not only in the wild.