Fearless Leader recently posted Another Reason Why the Smith & Wesson 686 Is the Greatest Gun Ever Made. I’m a wheelgunner myself, so I’m sort of picking nits here. But Grandpa Wenger’s favorite saying was, “differences of opinion are what make horse races” and this was a man who had actually supplemented the family income by betting on the trotters during the Great Depression . . .
My first .357 Magnum was purchased in the panic in California, in late 1982, when the passage of Proposition 15 would have meant no more sales of handguns to private citizens in that state. Fortuitously, Prop 15 was defeated by a margin of about two to one but lots of us made hurried purchases in the month before the election. Some friends at work were fond of the Ruger Security Six and an article by Chuck Taylor had erroneously convinced me that one might just barely gain some advantage from a .357 Magnum with a six-inch barrel.
I purchased a blued six-inch Security Six, a gun I never really took a shine to. About a year and many gun rags later, I decided to sell it and replace it with a four-inch S&W 27. When I got to the counter at the gun shop, the 27 did not feel as nice in my hands as I had expected so the clerk pulled out a four-inch 586. I liked the more muzzle-heavy feeling and that was what I purchased.
A few years later, I read an article by Massad Ayoob, in which he sang the praises of the 2 ½” 686, so I bought one. I know that the book says these were not introduced until 1990 but that was one of two guns I took to the LFI-I course in November 1988, only to have Mas tell me all that was wrong with that model. Despite his having compared it favorably, in his article, to a three-inch 66 – a non-catalog version that was offered periodically through a couple of S&W distributors – a few years later I found that I disagreed. The lower bore axis of the K-frame revolver produced less muzzle flip in my hands, even with the hot 125 gr. Federal SJHP Magnum loads, and the full-length ejectors with their N-frame-style housing on the three-inch guns suited me fine.
Still under the Ayoob influence, after some disappointment with one of the first “two-inch” Ruger SP101’s chambered at the factory in .357 Magnum – back when the marking still specified “125 gr. bullet” – I ended up carrying a pair of S&W 640-1’s in mirror-image fashion, on the waist. Many years later, I finally figured out how to empty out my left, front pants pocket so that I could add a slightly lighter “no-dash” 640 there.
By this time, I had already lost my infatuation with the Magnum chambering for self-defense, for a variety of reasons, including concerns with excessive blast from the muzzle and the barrel-cylinder gap when firing from the compressed position I think are most likely to be used off the range. Were I starting anew, knowing what I know now, I’d carry a pair of three-inch revolvers on the waist but don’t feel strongly enough about it to spend the money on a new set of holsters.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that most of the L-frame S&W revolvers are fine guns. Had I ended up joining the Arizona Rangers – a group of volunteer security officers who work public events – I would likely have bought a duty holster for the four-inch 686 that replaced that 586 that I gave to my son, after he used it to take the LFI-I course.
But seriously, as they say, if I could only own one handgun, I have no doubt that it would by my childhood dream gun, It took me ten and a half years of Arizona gun shows to locate one but my search paid off. I’m talking about the 3 ½” S&W 27, a gun that, in its day, was de rigueur for Special Agents of the FBI. Yes, the round butt on the three-inch 66 feels a bit better in my hand but, once that large N-frame cylinder starts rotating, that’s about as sweet a trigger stroke you can find on a S&W revolver. And the N frame will comfortably handle anything from .38 Special wadcutters to .357 Magnum hunting loads.