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Handgun Reviews

Smith & Wesson 686SSR

by Paul Scarlata   |  September 24th, 2010 0


While I am often accused of being a dinosaur, I am proud to be one of an ever-shrinking group of handgunners: a revolver fan. To my way of thinking, the handgun hasn’t been invented yet that can equal the ergonomics, ease of use, reliability and shootability of a fine, medium-frame, double-action revolver. And of the breed, none is finer or more famous than those produced by Smith & Wesson.

In 1935 S&W introduced what was to prove the most effective law enforcement handgun cartridge ever: the .357 S&W Magnum. Early .357 revolvers were based on S&W’s large N frame, and they were rather large, heavy and expensive. Requests for a lighter magnum revolver were answered in 1955 with the .357 Combat Magnum (Model 19), a K-frame revolver with a heavy barrel and an ejector rod shroud to provide recoil-dampening weight.

This was followed by the stainless steel Model 66, which was an instant hit with civilian shooters and police. But there was a downside. When fed a steady diet of magnum ammo, these K-frame revolvers sometimes shot themselves loose or went out of time. To rectify this problem, in 1981 S&W introduced the slightly larger and stronger L frame, which was capable of digesting an unlimited diet of magnum ammo. The blue Model 586 and stainless steel Model 686 provided an excellent compromise of weight, power and performance.

In recent years there has been somewhat of a revolver renaissance in competition shooting, and nowadays many of the action-pistol sports have revolver divisions. Smith & Wesson has a long history of supporting competition shooting, and it now offers the new Model 686SSR gun, which comes from the company’s Performance Center and is built specifically to meet IDPA’s specs for the Stock Service Revolver division. (For more on this, visit idpa.com .)

The basis for the 686SSR is a stainless steel L frame with a six-shot cylinder. Chamber mouths are chamfered to ensure smooth reloads. Its four-inch barrel has a full-length, tapered underlug to protect the ejector rod, but the sides have been flattened to keep weight within the rules. In addition, the muzzle has been recessed to prevent damage to the precision crown.

Sighting equipment consists of S&W’s nearly indestructible, fully adjustable rear matched to an interchangeable blade up front. The 686SSR comes standard with a set of ergonomic wooden grips that are designed to force the shooter to take a high hand hold on the revolver for enhanced recoil control and fast follow-up shots.

The action is tuned by Performance Center technicians to provide a smooth, stage-free, double-action pull with a crisp let-off, while the smooth-faced trigger is fitted with an overtravel stop. Bossed mainsprings provide a trigger pull that is 20 percent lighter than in standard L-frame revolvers.

A satin stainless finish presents a rugged, businesslike appearance. There is nothing here that is not necessary for its intended role in life; it just has everything a serious competitor needs.

My friend Rusty Rawsen has been a fan of the competition wheelgun for years, so I sought his assistance to see what the 686SSR was capable of. We met on a beautiful morning at Trigger Time Valley (.trigger-time.com ) near Carthage, North Carolina.

Although it has little practical application with a handgun designed solely for competition shooting, to be consistent with other Firing Line reports, we ran the Smith through the mandatory accuracy testing routine from an MTM rest at 25 yards and got what can only be called extraordinary results.


The 686SSR has chamfered cylinder mouths for faster reloads, although one tester wished they were chamfered a bit more aggressively.

Of the 15 five-shot groups we fired, all of them printed near enough to point of aim to make us happy and measured as small as an inch–and none was larger than two inches The 686SSR is the most accurate out-of-the-box revolver we’ve seen in some time.

After chronographing our five test loads, we put the 686SSR through its paces in offhand speed shooting. We first set up a pair of combat targets and, using a mixture of the remaining ammunition, ran the Smith though the following series of offhand drills.

• Five yards. Draw and perform the FBI drill–two rounds to the body, one to the head–on each target. Perform a combat reload and repeat, firing the revolver unsupported (one-handed).

• Ten yards. Draw and fire three rounds on each target. Perform a combat reload and repeat three more times.

• Fifteen yards. Draw and fire three rounds on each target. Reload and repeat.

The revolver was drawn from a Gould & Goodrich M803 holster; reloading was facilitated by the use of HKS and Safariland Comp III speedloaders. After perforating cardboard in a most satisfactory manner, we moved over to the next berm and used up the remaining ammo running speed drills on various plates, rectangles, squares and diamond-shaped steel targets.

Rusty, a serious revolver competitor and former North Carolina state revolver champ, thought it was one of the most versatile and well-built wheelguns he’d ever shot, his only criticism being that he thought the chamber mouths could be chamfered more aggressively to make reloads faster. He thought it handled very well; out of the 48 rounds he sent downrange, only one impacted outside of the targets’ respective A zones.

The Model 686SSR proved itself capable of doing anything that might be required in IDPA competition. Heck, it proved itself capable of performing just about any duty one might require of a handgun.

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SMITH & WESSON

Model 686SSR

Type: double action revolver
Caliber: .357 Mag./ .38 Spl.
Capacity: 6
>Barrel Length: 4 in.
Overall Length: 9.56 in.
Weight: 38.3 oz.
Sights: interchangeable blade front, fully adjustable rear
Finish: satin stainless
Grips: stippled wood
Price: $965
Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson Performance Center, smith-wesson.com , 800-331-0852

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