As a former IDF sniper, I’ve always viewed wheel guns as a blast from the past. Firearms best suited to Westerns, gun museums and OFWGs (who don’t know any better). So I wondered why RF handed me two Smith & Wesson revolvers to compare and contrast: a Model 69 Combat Magnum and a Model 66-8 Combat Magnum. “Don’t have too much fun,” he cautioned.
Both wheelguns boast a stainless steel finish and a 2.75″ barrel. The K-framed Model 66-8 .357 has a six-round cylinder. The Model 69 — Smith’s first .44 on an L-Frame — has a five-round drum. They both come with an adjustable rear sight, a painted red front ramp sight, and the dreaded internal lock.
Pulling the hammer back and pulling the trigger on the .357 Smith & Wesson model 66-8 for the first time felt like shooting a .50-cal. round out of a pistol. That’s not to say it was painful. Quite the opposite.
Even though I mostly shoot 9mm and 5.56 cartridges, I like recoil. It makes me feel like I’m shooting a “real” gun. Good thing. The 66-8 generates a lot of recoil shooting .357. But the heavyweight pistol (33.5 oz) with its Hogue-like rubber grip does an excellent job of soaking up the cartridge’s power. This despite the fact that the Smith’s barrel sits somewhere between a snubbie and a “proper” 4 inches.
As you’d expect from a modern Smith & Wesson revolver, the Model 66-8’s single action trigger pull was like a piece of freshly toasted pita bread: crisp and light.
What surprised me the most: the pistol’s accuracy. Despite my limited experience shooting revolvers, I shot decent groups — under 4 inches — with Hornady 140 gr FTX and Federal 158 gr JSP at five, ten, and twenty-five yards, shooting from a standing non-supported position.
Bottom line: the .357 magnum model 66-8 was a proverbial and literal blast to shoot. It’s accurate enough — in single-action, in theory — for personal defense. But being the recoil junkie I am, the real fun began with the 69 (the revolver that is).
The 2.75-inch .44 magnum is a hand cannon. Firing it in either single- or double-action, the gun wanted to fly out of my hand. Ditto two of my students, who both yelled profanities after touching off their first round with the wheel gun. But they quickly acclimatized to the revolver’s shove and managed to shoot acceptable groups.
After sending about 50 rounds down range I felt like I’d finished a good arm day at the gym. Again, I’m not complaining. Even as calluses formed on my strong hand, there was a smile plastered across my face.
I test-fired the Model 69 using Winchester 240 gr JSP and Hornady 300 gr XTP at five, ten, and twenty-five yards. To nobody’s surprise, I wasn’t as accurate with the 69 Combat Magnum as I was with its .357 sibling.
We’re talking about a 7-inch group shooting the Winchester ammo freehand at 25 yards. I reckon that was due to the wobble created by the pistol’s greater heft (34.4 oz.) and ammo. Not to mention the increased anticipation of the explosion in my hand. So to speak.
Despite the not-entirely-useful front sight — especially challenging for anyone who’s red-green colorblind — the Smith & Wesson Model 66-8 Combat Magnum and the Model 69 Combat Magnum are as accurate as a shooter can make them. If you’re Jerry Miculek, that’s all the accuracy you could possibly need. If you’re me, or maybe you facing a lethal threat, not so much.
Shooting the ammo for which the Smiths were designed, the pistols’ recoil makes them difficult to shoot accurately at self-defense speeds — even if you’ve mastered the art of the fast hammer cock. For most people, shot double action, the wheelguns have limited utility past bad breath distances.
Not to mention reloading and capacity issues, which bedevil Model 66-8 and 69’s defensive capabilities even if you’re shooting lower-powered .38 or .44 Special rounds. Or ammo cost, which can limit mission-critical training time.
Of course, not every firearm in your safe has to have a tactical purpose. And yes I’m aware that many choose large-caliber revolvers for their reliability and second strike capability. Not to mention that wheelguns are excellent tools for hunting or backwoods personal defense.
For everyday carry, I say stick to a compact modern-day striker-fired semi-automatic pistol. But feel free to ignore my advice — “a” gun is better than no gun. If you do, Smith & Wesson Models 66-8 and 69 are two fine specimens of small-ish, extremely powerful pistols. And RF’s right: shooting them is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.
Smith & Wesson Models 66-8 Combat Magnum and Model 69 Combat Magnum
Caliber: .357 magnum/.38 special +P .44 magnum
Length: 7.8 inches
Barrel Length: 2.75 inches
Weight: 33.5 oz / 34.4 oz
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Reliability * * * * *
It’s a revolver. Enough said.
Accuracy * * * * *
I was really surprised how accurate both of theses 2.75-inch revolvers were – the .357 slightly more so.
Aesthetics * * * * *
The stainless steel finish adds a little beauty to these classics.
Ergonomics * * * *
I never felt that comfortable with the grip of the revolver but hey, I haven’t been shooting them long enough.
Overall * * * * *
For someone who almost never shoots revolvers, both were fun to shoot and possibly changed my view on wheel guns.