Question of the Day: Is the Smith & Wesson 686 the World’s Best Revolver?

In the video below, God, Family Guns tells us 10 Things You Didn’t Know About The S&W 686 revolver (reviewed here by TTAG’s Chris Dumm). For example, did you know that there’s a Smith & Wesson 686 in blued steel…the Pythonesque 586? Me neither. Here’s another 686 fact that you might not know about . . .

your humble correspondent owned a 686 with a Hillary hole (internal lock) that seized-up — on camera. What are the odds? And yet, here’s proof.

I sold that one, bought a pre-lock model (top image) and lived happily ever after. I mean seriously happy. I never tire of shooting, and yes carrying my Smith & Wesson 686, loaded with Hornady .357 Critical Defense ammo. But back to the question at hand . . .

Korth may make a smoother-shooting, more accurate wheel gun (it should be at that price). And there’s nothing wrong with the brick-sh!thouse Ruger GP100. But I reckon the Smith & Wesson 686’s form-follows-function timeless design, ergonomic excellence, magnificent trigger and phenomenal accuracy make it the quintessential revolver. For me, that makes it the best. You?

comments

  1. avatar James R says:

    When price point is considered, definitely. Also my first gun.

  2. avatar Timmer says:

    I had a 6 inch 586 that I traded for a 4 inch 28-2 with no regrets. However, if that 586 was a 4 inch I would have kept it because the L frame is the perfect “goldilocks” size IMHO.

  3. avatar Ironhead says:

    Its one of the best, but after shooting both i think the colt python is just a little bit better.

    1. avatar Eric in Oregon says:

      The Python double action triggers are just about perfect.

      1. avatar Kendahl says:

        Years ago, I had a chance to buy a 6″ stainless Python at a good price. I turned it down because, with my small hands, I couldn’t reach the trigger unless I cocked the gun first. On the other hand, my wife’s 4″ Diamondback fits just fine.

    2. avatar Jim says:

      For one, I find it very interesting when S&W shooters want to tell us how wonderful the Smith is, they compare it to what really is the Best Revolver Ever Made… the Colt Python. Actually, any of the Snake series so far as I’m concerned, is better than the best Smith ever produced.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        Unfortunately, Colt is not producing the Snakes. If you want a new every day shooter S&W and Ruger are your go to choices.

        1. avatar Hemiram says:

          You’re forgetting that Dan Wesson’s 715 is back into production. I would take one over a new 686 or Ruger. I have an older one, along with a nice blued 15-2.

    3. avatar Russ H. says:

      I have a 1980 6″ Colt Python and HAD a 4″ S&W 686 (the ex got it). I carried the 686 as a state trooper in AZ for about 3 yrs before we went to the Sig platform. I LOVED my 686 and regret ever letting the ex have it – it did save me divorce issues. I still have my Colt Python, which is the finest revolver ever made (out of the box).

  4. avatar Eric in Oregon says:

    I think it’s the prettiest gun ever made and that 357 is the most versatile caliber ever made, so yep. It’s easily my “what if you could only have 1” gun.

  5. avatar PeterK says:

    I’m more a fan of brick poop-houses. I totally respect your choice, though, and don’t really disagree. Just have slightly different priorities.

  6. avatar Shawn says:

    No. Because it wasn’t made in the 1960s earlier. Or at least that’s what the internet forums always say. I’m being sarcastic but there seems to be quite a few people that think that any revolver made by S&W after insert decade here are all garbage. There are probably people out there that think the gun is crap because it was introduced in the 1980’s and not the 1960’s and if they are not from that mindset they thing EVERY 686 without a dash; I’m not even talking about the lock here which is another stupid argument to bring up because of there rose colored glasses make them hate all newer S&W’s, are terrible garbage guns.

    And the funny thing is these same people that love there old guns and think all the newer models are not worth even trying don’t shoot there 1960’s S&W that they think is better than a modern $5,000 korth custom out off fear of damaging it.

    1. avatar RandallOfLegend says:

      I own a Model 66-3, which is my favorite gun, and is a slimmer precursor to the 686. My main gripe about the NEW models 66’s is the bead blasted finish, doofy miscolored MIM trigger, and I am unsure about the two piece barrel. I wouldn’t call new S&W revolvers junk, but I don’t care for some of the “new” models they’re putting out.

  7. avatar Pcola Gator says:

    Absolutely, would never sell mine.

  8. avatar joetast says:

    There damn fine weapons, a friend of mine has had his for years. I don’t know how many deer he’s taken with it, inxs of 15 , that I know of.

  9. avatar Chad says:

    It is an awesome revolver. A copy of the Python, but more robust. Not quite as smooth, but more reliable. The 586 is pretty, but I prefer the stainless 686.

  10. avatar Joe R. says:

    Nice. That crazy lower rail section makes it look survival-knifey.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  11. avatar Tom in NC says:

    If you are talking about those currently in production, then I would agree. But I have two – or is it three? – Dan Wesson .357’s with heavy vent rib, and they have always been my fav’s. One of them was my First Handgun, and it is really smooth and accurate – bought new in 1977. The ability to set the barrel gap and have tension on both ends of the barrel seems to make a difference in accuracy.

  12. avatar Andrew Lias says:

    I have Ks not Ls but overall it’s hard to go wrong with a Smith revolver IMO.

  13. avatar Amfivena says:

    What about the Manurhin MR 73? Serious question, never fired one and curious how it would compare to a 686 or Python.

    1. avatar ActionPhysicalMan says:

      If you consider price, I suspect so. I have a 5.25″ Mongoose, and IMO the trigger is better, it is more user adjustable, and the fit an finish is better. I had to make my own (in mammoth ivory on a Bridgeport with an indexer) to get a decent grip though.

      1. avatar ActionPhysicalMan says:

        I thought I had deleted this and moved it below where it belonged. Damn.

    2. avatar GP1935 says:

      I have a police surplus MR 73. It’s beat up, but it’s one smooth tank of a gun. Cold hammer forged barrel, parts machined out of tool steel, not case hardened soft steel. User adjustable mainspring and trigger return. You can get the pull as light as your primers will let you. Parts are hard to get but luckily they are very difficult to break or wear out. Wish i could afford a new one, but they run 3K.

      1. avatar Amfivena says:

        Cool, consider me jealous. I love interesting and battle scarred surplus firearms. Thanks for the info.

  14. avatar OmnivorousBeorn says:

    I yield the floor to my friend the Gov in three . . . two . . . one . . .

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      I’m more worried about Negan…

    2. avatar BLoving says:

      He’ll be along shortly to sing the praises of his Wiley Clapp GP100, and he isn’t wrong – different strokes and all that.
      The Smiths are very nice, I still remember being infatuated with the idea of packing a 686Plus (The seven shot version) with a 2-1/2″ barrel and probably wouldn’t pass one up if a good opportunity presented itself.
      Still holding out for a Ruger Security Six 4″… one day.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        If I was restricted to one handgun it would likely be a Ruger .357. But since I’m not…..

        I had a Ruger Service Six back in the day. It was the Security Six with fixed sights. I reloaded then and shot the crap out of that gun. No worries. It took all I could throw at it.

  15. avatar Kenneth G Maiden says:

    With just a plain Jane no dash 4 and 6 inch 586 to base my opinion on, (hate the hillary hole Smiths) I’d YES YES YES.

  16. avatar OmnivorousBeorn says:

    I’ve had a 686 lock up on me a few times, too.

    1. avatar Ed Rogers says:

      Shortly after I purchased my 686-6, it kept locking up on me. It would only do it with a specific ammo. I sent it in and the replaced a couple of parts. So far, so good.

      I do love it, although I also love my M69 and Governor. I really can’t decide…

    2. avatar Frank in VA says:

      Was it an internal lock malfunction?

  17. avatar Snatchums says:

    I prefer the brick shithouse GP100 myself. Own one, love it, I have no burning desire for a 686.

    1. avatar ActionPhysicalMan says:

      I thought Rugers were beefier because they were made of cast steel and need to be beefier to make up for the steel’s lesser strength. Perhaps someone who actually understands the issue could speak to that notion? Don’t get me wrong though, I have bought more Rugers than Smiths and am delighted with the all steel SP101.

      1. avatar Sean says:

        Well, to a certain degree but it’s also to make a stronger gun. There are actually specialty loads that say “Ruger only,” so they go overboard with the metal thickness. Additionally, the Ruger lockwork is super strong.

      2. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

        A GP 100 with a 4.2″ barrel weighs 40oz vs a 686 with a 4.125″ barrel at 39.7oz.

        http://www.ruger.com/products/gp100/specSheets/1705.html
        https://www.smith-wesson.com/firearms/model-686

        They’re not ‘beefier’ they’re just stronger. Properly heat treated cast steel can be just as strong as forged steel. But the reason is it’s design. The lack of a side plate strengthens it a great deal. I think there’s also less metal in the GP’s peg grip frame, allowing for more metal elsewhere. The 686 is basically a late 19th century design vs the GP which developed in the 1970s and 80s.

    2. avatar Renner says:

      I was waiting for a Ruger comment. I own both a 686 and a GP100 and I would take the Ruger any day over the Smith. Any day.

    3. avatar Warren Pease says:

      I’d like to have a 686, but I will always have a GP 100. Both great guns, but you never know when you need to anchor a boat or pound a nail.

  18. avatar Vincent says:

    If they stop producing revolvers with trigger locks I would buy one. But until they do they are dead to me.

    1. avatar Jim B says:

      Just remove the trigger lock. That is what I did with my 329. There are all sorts of videos on how to do it and there are plugs made to fill the hole if you like.

  19. avatar ActionPhysicalMan says:

    If you consider price, I suspect so. I have a 5.25″ Mongoose, and IMO the trigger is better, it is more user adjustable, and the fit and finish is significantly better. I had to make my own (in mammoth ivory on a Bridgeport with an indexer) to get a decent grip though.

  20. avatar Chris Dumm says:

    Yes!

    The Korth is a work of Teutonic art, the Python has the best trigger ever made, and a GP-100 might conceivably still function 250 years from now (vs the Smith’s mere 200 years) but no other revolver has ever hit so close to perfection in nearly every category that counts.

  21. avatar Kenneth says:

    As a long-time S&W man, I still prefer some iteration of the “K” frame(model 19, etc.). But only because I seldom shoot full house .357 mags., preferring .38s most of the time.
    IF one insists on a steady diet of .357s the “L” frames(686) are clearly better for that kind of use.

  22. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    I may have to pick up a 586 sans lock.
    It might keep me from shooting my python.

  23. avatar TFred says:

    Just *imagine* what would happen if someone at S&W grew a spine and tossed out that stupid lock. I would never own a S&W with a trigger lock, there’s just nothing good about it.

    Took me a year, but I finally found a pre-lock 686+. That little “+” surprise pushes it over the top for a great self-defense revolver. The bad guy might be able to count to 6, but he can’t tell you’re carrying 7!

  24. avatar Sean says:

    Nope, the GP100 is superior. No sideplate. Higher value. Stronger action. Better grip system. No internal lock. And if the trigger isn’t your cup of tea, it’s easily tuned, especially with the leftover money you saved by buying a GP100 instead of a Smith. I’m not going to say it’s better than a Colt but then again, it’s not really in the same price range.

    Now, the Smith and Wesson R8? THAT’s a cool Smith. 🙂

    1. avatar Cogline says:

      I was going to say the GP100 Match Champion was better.

      1. avatar Sean says:

        Yeah, they address some of the common complaints about GP100’s, although I personally own a stock 5 inch model and I wouldn’t and haven’t changed a thing, besides installing a slightly lighter spring. And I love the full length underlug, holds the nose down if you’re shooting hotter loads.

    2. avatar Sean says:

      I’m also partial to the Model 10s, they just feel handy.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        K frames. Every thing you need in a fighting handgun and nothing you don’t need.

    3. avatar Jim says:

      How is “no sideplate” a plus exactly?

      1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

        The lack of a side plate is the biggest reason Rugers are stronger than S&Ws.

        1. avatar Jim says:

          Going to need some evidence of that. I highly doubt a Ruger GP100 is stronger than a 686 because it doesn’t use a sideplate.

          In fact, I doubt it is actually stronger. The Rugers that are tend to be the Super Blackhawks and No. 1 rifles.

        2. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

          I don’t know if logic will suffice as evidence, but one half of the frame on a Smith is structural and the other side is not as opposed to the Ru ger where both sides are structural. Unless the single structural side of the Smith was either far more massive or made of much stronger material, the Ru ger would be stronger. The Smith does use a forged frame as opposed to Ruger’s cast frame, but as I’ve pointed out elsewhere here, there’s very little difference between properly heat treated cast steel and forged. The GPs also have thicker top straps and forcing cones.

          The L frames (686) were in fact a reaction to Ruger’s entry into the market with the Security-Six. Prior to that S&W had the J frame pocket revolvers, the massive N frames and the ‘Combat Magnum’ K frames. The K frames would not stand up to a steady diet of magnum loads and in fact S&W advised buyers to practice using .38 special loads. Then Ru ger came along and started selling middle-weight .357 magnum revolvers that would take all the full bore .357 rounds you could throw at it for half the price. The L frame was Smith’s answer, but then Ru ger further refined their design into the even stronger GP 100.

          Not that a 686 isn’t likely to outlast it’s owner, but if you’re looking to shoot a lot of the really heavy stuff, it’s just not as strong as the GP.

        3. avatar Jim says:

          I’ve never once seen a sideplate blow off a S&W, and most of the nonsense about Rugers being stronger isn’t backed up by anything. The NO 1 Rifle and Super Blackhawks are however, but the rest? Not really.

        4. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

          No, the single structural side of the frame is plenty strong enough to prevent the frame from flexing so much that it blows the side cover completely off.

          The real areas of concern are the forcing cone and the lockwork. The forcing cone is where the older K frames had the most trouble because the bottom was cut flat to allow room for the crane and that’s where it would crack. Rugers go out of time about as often as Smiths blow their side covers off under recoil, so either the lockwork is more robust or the extra flex from the frame is what causes the Smiths to go out. As to which is above my pay grade.

          Totally agree on the No.1s, BTW. Mine’s in .303 but you could probably just rebarrel it for .50BMG.

    4. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      I’ve got a Wilson Com bat spring kit in both my GPs. Hammerspring at 10# (vs stock 14#) and 8# trigg er return spring (I think stock is 12#) reduces trig ger pull about a pound for both DA and SA. Easy enough for anybody with access to You Tube videos to tackle themselves. Wolff has a similar kit – both run about $10. From what I’ve heard the 9# hammerspring can cause occasional light strikes, but not a problem with the 10#.

    5. avatar Christopher says:

      100% agree. Have GP-100 6″ & 6″ Colt Python my father gave to me. The R8 is the only gun that has me thinking about a new .357

  25. avatar David Richter says:

    I’m a big fan of the 681 instead of the 686. I like the fixed sights over the adjustables because, for me, this is a total knock around gun, and unless the frame or barrel is bent, I don’t have to worry about the sights being moved.

    Plus it was one of my first guns, bought when all the police departments were dumping them. Plus it’s what I shot as a fledgling IPSC shooter and starting winning trophies. Being a left handed revolver shooter has its challenges, but it also put me in a class that allowed me to win trophies when everyone else had $3,000 1911 based 38 supers.

  26. avatar Ryan Keliipuleole says:

    Ive shot a few of the older dan wesson revolvers, with the interchangeable barrel system, and i think those things are incredible.
    One i havent handled but would like to hear the opinions of TTAG writers about is the Smith and Wesson TRR8 .357

    1. avatar Sean says:

      Not a writer for TTAG but I’ve handled and shot that model. Amazing gun, super light but with all the rail space and firepower you need for a perfect home defense, competition and recreational revolver. I’ve heard mixed reviews on the scandium frames long term but it does make for a crazy light gun. I would love to own one but I can’t find one for less that $1000, and most are $1200.

      1. avatar Ryan says:

        Thanks for your insight! The capacity seems like a big plus too. On par with a 1911 but with .357 power. They are really hard to find, although if I did see one around 1000 I’d be quick to pick it up, funds permitting.

  27. avatar Accur81 says:

    I like both the Python and the 627 PC 5″ better. The Python has better lockup and the 627 has a nice trigger and 8 round capacity. Of course the 4″ 686 is flippin’ sweet. If you can, enjoy them all.

  28. avatar Chet says:

    I have a GP100 in 6 inch barrel. I had the opportunity to shoot it back to back with a 686. Both are fine guns, but, for shooting heavy, full power loads, the Ruger’s heft wins for me. If S&W would lose the internal lock, I would consider a 686+ with a 2.5 inch barrel for a carry gun.

  29. avatar Dave in Alaska says:

    686 no dash. My favorite by far. I use mine for IDPA and have many thousands of rounds through it. I’ve had it lock up but never for a mechanical reason. High primers and improper neck tension on the bullets will ruin your day with a revolver. If you load your own ammo make it good and QC everything you do.

  30. avatar TyrannyOfEvilMen says:

    It just might be. It’s definitely in the top tier.

  31. avatar achmed says:

    MR73 are really the best. But yes the 686 is a great gun.

  32. I like the guns, but continue to buy the old ones. I don’t like that the stainless steel guns don’t have stainless hammers and triggers, and the locks as well since we have to have them. even their small frame guns have carbon steel parts.so sweat and moisture can get down inside the action. love my old m60,m640 ( not a fan of the 357 versions),m649, m65 ( 3″) and my m66 (2.5″).

  33. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    “Best” by what metric?

  34. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    No, that would be the GP 100. Or maybe a Korth. But I don’t have the money for a Korth, so GP it is.

  35. avatar Leighton Cavendish says:

    My 686 is the CS-1 version.

  36. I have a S&W 586. It’s my favorite gun by far. The proverbial tack driver.

  37. avatar michael says:

    Love my pre-lock 686. Like my GP 100. Wish I had a Python.

  38. avatar Setarip says:

    I prefer the 627 8 shot. Just a little bit bigger, but a stronger frame/forcing cone and 8 rounds of .357. I have the 627 pro series and it has the single nicest DA pull I’ve ever felt. The SA ain’t too shabby either.

    Worst revolver SA pull I have felt was a ruger gp100. I am not impressed with their lockwork.

  39. avatar ChrisW says:

    4″ 686 was my first handgun. Bought it in the late 80s. She is a shooter. I’ve got a number of other centerfire handguns semis and revolvers, but “Big Silver” is still my favorite. I can shoot .38 and .357 mags equally well from her. IMHO the 4″ 686 is the best revolver ever…but I’d like to shoot a lot more just to make sure!

  40. avatar R says:

    The Ruger is a better, more durable design and a better value. The disparity in out-of-the-box trigger pulls is overstated, especially nowadays. About the only thing the Smiths really have over Ruger at this point is aesthetics – in most cases at least.

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      Some of us even prefer the Ruger’s aesthetics.

    2. avatar brianinca says:

      Coming out of an inherited stainless Security Six my ex-wife kept, I scored a 686 M 4″. Super great pistol, but as I didn’t want to beat it up with handloads, I picked up a new production KGP100 6″. They’re both super great pistols, and Ruger must have tweaked the trigger on newer GP’s because it’s a wash between the two.

      My only complaint is no Pachmayr Presentations for the Ruger, I really like them on the Security Six and 686. The Hogue NFG’s are substantially smaller and I’m learning to live with them.

      From a design standpoint, the Ruger is clearly more “engineered” than the Smith – heck, so is the Security Six! It’s not a 1911 vs Glock disparity, but it’s OBVIOUS. I like them both very much. Now I want a 6″ 686 and a 4″ GP100.

      1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

        I can’t recommend these grips enough;

        https://www.altamontco.com/pistol-grips/ruger/gp100/

        I have large hands and they are the most comfortable grips I’ve ever shot (IMHO) yet everyone I let shoot with them seems to comment about liking the grips regardless of the size of their hands. And they’re not too expensive and they look nice.

  41. avatar JDC says:

    My wife has a 686 4″ .It is just heavy enough to dampen the 110 Treasury Load equivalent .357’s for her. I have large hands, but I actually prefer K-frames. More balanced to me.

  42. avatar Specialist38 says:

    Perfect? No.

    It would be closer if they would get rid that full underlug.

    I prefer the 66. I have not seen the “shake themselves apart” issue noted by so many.

    I imagine the recoil of the 66 shook a lot of cops apart and that led to the additional tonnage of the 686.

    Since i have an LCR in 357 with a couple thousand round thriugh it, i think a 35 oz stainless frame can handle 357 ok

    Mine have…

  43. avatar VF 1777 says:

    The fact that my 686-4 pre-lock 4″ .357 goes up in value every year speaks for itself. I don’t see anyone selling them. It’s a gem.

  44. No, the 629 is better.
    Because .44

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      Can’t argue that logic.

  45. avatar Smitty says:

    I purchased a 686 in 357 Mag for my wife. She loves the gun.

  46. avatar Tater says:

    Gp-100 for the win it might not be quite as pretty but like every girl that’s not a beauty queen she makes up for in in other ways….

  47. avatar S Tanner says:

    My vote is for a stainless Ruger GP100. The reason I say this is toughness. Pythons are delicate, going out of time relatively quick, and are hard to fix. Smiths are tougher, stay in time much longer, and are easier to fix. GP100’s are tanks, they don’t go out of time, and you don’t need to fix them, a bit clunky though as all Rugers

  48. avatar Russ H. says:

    The S&W 686 is the finest 357 revolver made in a medium sized frame (other than the Colt Python, which is in it’s own class). Comparing Dan Wesson and Ruger’s is laughable. I own a Python and owned a 686 (the ex got it). I carried the 686 for 3 yrs as a state trooper in AZ before we went to Sigs. Man I miss that 686… Been looking for a used pre-locking 686 for years.

  49. avatar Former Illinois Resident says:

    The best? Nope. For the same price you could buy a Ruger AND some trigger work AND lots of ammo AND gas Money to the range AND range time. Then you would have a tougher built, more accurate gun with a better trigger that doesn’t come from a manufacturer that (for some reason) still thinks a metal back strap on a magnum revolver is a good idea. And for the record I think the gp100 is a great looking gun especially the older ones like mine that have the wood inserts on the sides of the grips.

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