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(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)

By Phil Twiss

We’ve all heard that we should be wary of the man with one gun. But were would that man’s one gun come from… Would it be a new out the box that everyone carries, GLOCK, SIG or Smith & Wesson? Or would it be rare/semi rare gun store/pawn shop find from the past (but not that far past). Maybe a proven gun that was the GLOCK of the day back when it was top dog in all the gun mags.

Call it my vanity or contempt for those who chase after the current plastic being run as the next GLOCK everyone must have, but I wanted something different, but proven over time in the hands of those who make a living with the gun. So I set out on my quest for my first and maybe my last CCW.

As a CCW, it had to meet the same standards regardless of age or rep in the gun mags. For me, the list of must-haves isn’t that long. It had to be…

·        In a caliber with a proven efficacy that’s easy to find at either the ammo counter in Wally World or the back road gas station (yes, in my part of the country, we can still get a box of 12 ga/9mm with a Slim Jim and a Coke)

·        Able to shoot what was on hand (given the Obama/Hillary scares)

·        Accurate, at least enough to hit more than miss

·        Dependable as the sunrise, because the fight was going to be with the gun on my side, not the one working through the break-in rounds. I have never understood how a new gun must be fired 400 to 500 rounds to become dependable.

·        “Idiot proof”, sorry, “simple” enough for even the wife to use, clean, and hit more than miss

·        Something with an intimidation factor. It has to look like a gun, not a multi-color toy without the red muzzle cap. Now using a gun to intimidate is a big no-no…if not the dumbest thing you ever did on your way to the penitentiary. But there are countless instances where a felon was dissuaded from his evil ways by the good guy’s equally evil weapon. To me, all the better to have a gun that doesn’t need to prove its capability than to have a gun that requires dropping the hammer.

I have to stop this list thing before David Letterman calls wanting a royalty check. Anyway, back to the story.

I had just gotten a bonus check from work and wanted to put it to use on something I had wanted for a while, the CCW that wasn’t just like everyone else’s at the local shop. I had the bright idea that a revolver of any kind would give me the ability to shoot anything I had at hand without needing 400 to 500 rounds to make it reliable. I thought a .357 revolver would give me options (.38, .38 +p, and .357 mag) in one gun that could match my ability and pocketbook, all at the same time.

Heck, if I found a well-used (not used up) gun, it may have already been given the “many rounds over many years” trigger job to boot without the gunsmith bill.  So off I went looking for the well-used, but not used up gun. I wanted to keep it local, so big box and on-line sources were out. I started going to the local shops in quest of the gun that met my list and budget.

 

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One of the shops carried, for the most part, long guns but they had two small cases in the middle of the store for revolvers and pistols. Not many, but they were constantly changing. The day I found it, I asked the owner if he had any .357’s. He said, he had just traded for one, but it was rough and in the sonic cleaner. He told me it was Smith & Wesson 66-4 with a 2.5 inch barrel. Hmmm, pretty semi-rare and the virtual definition of a GLOCK back in its day. A couple of minute later he brought it out.

The grips and the action were still too stiff to move, but it was the CCW I was looking for (clean, bright barrel, no damage to the crown or cylinder, no Hillary hole and not a MIM part to be found). I knew from my past searches that the shop would have a good price, but would this be the well-worn not worn out CCW for me? He asked me to let him finish the clean-up before we talked about interest or price. Yep, I wanted it and would be back. Long story short, it cleaned up nice and ran like the well-oiled machine that most Smiths are after being carried and shot for years.

Finding bits and pieces for an out of production gun can be frustrating. But it didn’t take too long to find a grip (Hogue Bantam grips) and holster (Galco Combat Master) to make the largess K frame fit into my daily CCW.

Now to the gun. Some say that the K-frame was nice in .38 but a failure as a .357 with reports of forcing cones failing under hot loads. The small flat at the bottom of the barrel has been reported to fail. But as studied, by Jeff Quinn this failure seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

And with exception of extensive 125 gr and under loads, the guns seem to have held up by using .38’s to practice and heavier 158 gr loads to carry. This works for me shooting .38’s and whatever .38 +p /heavy 158/180 .357 mag loads for carry. I don’t see it as deal killer given that I’ve seen the same warning on some of the new light weight .357 J-frames.

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In fact, 130 gr .38 is more like shooting a loud 22 in 2+ pound gun. I’m not going to go on about its accuracy. It’s a snub nose revolver. In the hands of most, it’s minute of man at bad breath ranges.  But really, would you want to explain more to a judge and jury if it ever comes time to use it to get out of a jam?

Its size and weight make it good enough for hot .357 loads and accurate enough to practice with .38s. But it’s the intimidation factor that wins the day for me.

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Press the release and open the cylinder (talk about your no tool field strip) swab out the cylinder, barrel and a little oil on the matting surfaces and you’re ready to go. No springs, pulling the trigger, pins or levers to leave those idiot scratches.

The stainless steel frame is great for an all-weather, go anywhere gun that can be polished back to new without much effort or cost.

It’s not without its detractors, mainly due to limited round capacity. But as a CCW, I’m both legally and criminally responsible for every round I fire. So like I said before, it’s all the better to have a gun that does not need to prove its capability than one that requires dropping the hammer.

Specifications: Smith & Wesson Model 66-4

Type: Revolver
Caliber(s): .357 Magnum, .38 Special
Weight: 2.25 lb. (1.02 kg)
Barrel length: 2.5″
Capacity: 6 rounds
Fire Modes: SA/DA
MSRP: $850 new, a lot less used

Ratings (out of five stars):

Style: * * * * *
Timeless, with an intimidation factor to boot.

Ergonomics: * * *
Can be an effective CCW with a smaller grip, heavy belt and an outside the waistband holster.

Reliability: * * * * *
No problems, any .38, .38+p or .357 with limited rounds under 125 grain. No different than modern light weight .357 Smith J-frames.

Accuracy: * * *
Good enough to hit more than miss.

Customize This: * * *
Not that easy to find for older models, but really doesn’t need much to do the job.

Overall: * * *
It’s a doable CCW with the ability to shoot whatever is at hand at minute of man targets at bad breath ranges. Combined with an intimidation factor, that may get you out of a jam without dropping the hammer.

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39 Responses to Gun Review: Smith & Wesson Model 66-4 .357 Revolver

  1. These are great guns, and out of my collection some of my favorites.

    I own a 66-5 that’s a virtual twin of that one save the MIMed parts and a 66-1 3″ (ex Michigan State Police gun) and both are excellent.

    My mods include trigger return springs and the -1 has the Pachmyr Grips while the Houge Monogrips are on the -5. I prefer the Pachmyrs for not grabbing clothes but the Monogrips are slightly more shootable IMO.

    Accuracy wise, these are fantastic pistols. Certainly more accurate than I am. The 2.5″ is a bit more challenging due to the shorter sight radius but I would still put it at above average, especially compared with a piece of striker fired tactical Tupperware like a Glock or my SD9.

    If you find a deal they are a great value too; I got both of mine for $300 or less.

  2. My 1st gun and I will never part with it. My Model 66 isnt pretty with its 2.5 inch barrel. It was Magna Ported and made DA only. I had the backstrap worked on to improve the grip. But thats the only place I went wrong. I didnt look at the gunsmiths other work and checkering wasnt his best skill.
    Not a straight row of grooves to be found.
    But other then that boo boo. Its been my go to go for over 25 years,
    I wish to be buried with it.
    That might be harder to pull off then putting my moms dogs ashes in with her. Told the funeral director it was her favorite transistor radio in the box. Ill have to have my relatives come up with a good excuse.
    Since I dont know where Im going. Up or down after my days are over in this plain. I might need the extra help.

    • My first gun as well, bought it the day after I turned 21. My 66 has a 6″ barrel and I left it completely stock. I like the wood grips it came with. Still shoots reliably more decades than I care to admit later.

    • Have a trusted friend wrap it in a hankie and sneak it in your suit coat during the viewing. What the funeral director does’t know right?

  3. I tend to agree with this. Hard to argue against. I have my own K-frame. A 1977 Model 67. Ex police revolver hailing from New Jersey. I bought it in 1993. Put 5000 rounds easy through it. Just sent it off earlier this year to S&W Performance Center for the Combat Revolver Package. I think K-frame’s are the standard for a handgun.

    • He’s so big on “intimidation factor”, but not particularly bothered by the fact that .357 snubbies are notoriously difficult to shot well.

    • I don’t know. I buy a fair number of new Smiths, (mainly the new classics,because I want them to keep making blue/walnut revolvers) and with the exception of a truly jacked 69 (that Smith warranty replaced without a whimper) they are still pretty nice. My last 27 is actually really nice if you can overlook the Hillary hole (which I can). Anyway,way better than Taurus in every way and better finish than Ruger on blued guns. And I have had zero issues with MIM parts. Now, there are a whole lot of new models I’ve never even handled, much less shot (like the 7 and 8 shot guns or most anything only available in stainless), but I highly doubt they are “crap” merely mass produced as opposed to hand crafted or finished. Korths cost what they do for a reason.

  4. I carried a S&W 65 4in. for quite some time. Having been fired so much over the years (at ranges) the trigger was the best I’ve ever used in a double-action and the thing was as accurate as you could ever hope. I wish I could have bought it…

  5. I have a 66-2 with a 2.5 barrel. I can put 5 of 6 rounds on the 18″ gong at 100 yards. The thick front glad is the only difficulty with it. The sight radius is fine with Smith sights

  6. I’m not much of a revolver guy, though, I like and have owned them. That being said, that is a damn nice gun.

    If I were to want a .357 carry gun, it would be on par with this option.

  7. Nice gun. But.

    849 words before getting to anything meaningful.

    I’ve noticed most of the reader submitted gun reviews fall into this category.

  8. What are these unreliable autoloaders everybody is buying that supposedly need 400 rounds of break in?

    My GLOCK didn’t need that. Neither did my Ruger P95. Or a friend’s Canik. Or any new auto I can remember shooting.

    • I think it’s more of comfort level, knowing the gun actually works, rather than needing a true break in period.

      Or it’s just old school thought process, transferring onto new products, which no longer remain valid.

      This happens with a lot with cars, too, like,” you cannot mix synthetic and conventional oil.” Yet, semi synthetics (a mixture of both) exists and are very commonly used.

    • I haven’t had an autoloader that “needed” breaking in, but I do shoot at least 200 rounds of my carry ammo to make sure it is compatible. Of course my first was a 1911 so I am sure you can understand why I am jaundiced.

  9. Not that I hate or even dislike Plastic 9s.

    It’s that I cut my teeth on revoles and the 357 proved itself to be the cats ass in performance.

    The model 66 was premium carry but should have come standard with a 3inch barrel.

    Maybe smith could correct.that with a no-lock model 66 with a three inch. Better size, weight, and bore height compared to the 686. I’m waiting S&W…..

  10. I enjoyed your review. When I turned 21, I was more excited to get a handgun and carry than I was to drink in a bar. My first few handguns were all mid size or compact autos. I couldn’the understand why anyone would want to carry an antiquated revolver or 1911 with all the modern choices available. 24 years later, while I still have my autos (all glocks now) , the guns I hunt for the hardest and love to take to the range are my S&W 357 revolvers. There is just something so old school cool about them.I have bought around a dozen of them over the years, and I still own almost all of them and I kick myself for the ones I let go.

  11. Excellent range toy/collectors item, Carry gun not so much. Awful capacity issues, especially when considering its weight. Reliable mostly but it sharp contrast to a modern semi-auto if it happens to malfunction enjoy your tiny and odly shaped club but at least it is heavy enough for such improv.

  12. First wheel gun I ever owned was a Model 66. Came from local PD when they went all Wunder 9. Fine gun. Sold it and regretted it ever since.

  13. Why all the love for a 2.5″ 66 when the 3″ RB 65 is so much the better carry gun? Slightly longer barrel, better balance, better ballistics, smoother draw, better looking, and most important, no fragile adj sights to break/hang-up/misalign ! DMD

    • A 65 is definitely on the wish list, or more 66es in barrel lengths I don’t own already. 🙂

      That said I’m inclined to agree on the sight, It definitely is a consideration for holster selection IWB IMO.

      Having both I’d put the 2.5″ and 3″ at similar shootability personally. You gain a bit with the 3 but not a lot.

    • The “fragile” adjustable sight thing is pretty bogus.

      Out of 20 smith’s I’ve owned, I bent the rest leaf on one getting in a truck after hunting. Still worked so I left it.

      The sight picture is more crisp than a 65 and if you shoot anything but 158 gr, the 65 will shoot to different spot. Shooting at 15 feet, it may not matter. At distance it matters a lot.

      I usually pick a holster that works with adjustable sights. They are a little more difficult to find these days but they’re out there.

      Biggest advantage of a 3inch is a full ejection stroke. Ruger cheaper out on the LCRx 3 inch and used the same from the short barrel. Shame on Ruger.

  14. This era of S&W revolvers resulted in, IMO, some of the best revolvers made in the classic style out there if you’re seeking functionality over collectability.

    Except… since the average level of quality in the firearms market is plummeting rather rapidly, even workaday guns like this one will see their prices bid up in the next 10 years.

  15. There ain’t nothing wrong with a good old fashioned wheel gun. They will reliably ruin the day of an attacker at close range and 6 shots is much more often than not adequate for the job. When asked for a recommendation for a first firearm from someone who probably won’t be shooting that often, I tell them to go with a stainless .357. Ease of use is very important if you are not going to practice that often.

  16. I am fortunate to own the blue version of this gun, the Model 19 2 1/2″. I had one years ago, sold it, and had to get another because. Just because.
    In terms of balance and shooter-friendliness, this is about as good as it gets. Nearly all my revos (and the missus says I have a lot, whatever that might mean) are four-inchers, because that’s the right length for several reasons. Indeed, my very first revolver, this gun’s giant brother, the Highway Patrolman, had its six-inch barrel replaced decades ago with a four-inch one.
    Still, the 2 1/2″ is still a charmer. In terms of a carry gun, it’s pretty heavy- about 35 ounces loaded with 158gr Gold Dots (who cares about empty weight? You don’t carry it that way.), which is over an ounce more than my actual carry gun, an old Colt Commander with nine 230s aboard. For that and two other reasons, I pretty much never carry the 19 despite my great affection for it: only holding two-thirds as many rounds of much slower-to-shoot ammunition (I know from lots of timer time I can hit much faster and more accurately in rapid fire with the Colt than the Smith. Much.) and the lack of a built-in “safety” lock.
    You lose control of your revo, someone else can shoot it in a blink; you lose your safety-locked auto and the other person might not figure out the lock until you have a chance to act. That value can be argued and I see both sides, but my preference is the built-in lock.
    As to barrel length, the 2 1/2″ versions suffer from a way-too-short extractor stroke. Getting the cylinder cleared for a refill takes a bit more skill and determination than does the longer version.
    Hence the big improvement of the 3″ K-frames: the extractor is “standard” length and empties the holes with much greater alacrity. We have a 3″ Model 65 (fixed-sight edition in Smith-speak); honestly, as much as I prefer the 19, the three-incher is a better combat gun, with the slight improvement in point-sighting and the more reliable and often faster reloads. They weigh the same (our 65 is the shrouded-barrel variant aka the “Ladysmith) and carry the same.
    Yeah, but the 2 1/2” is still the nutz, and just about the coolest smaller revolver ever. Still.

  17. Your 66-4 has the NEW type thumb piece and a MIM trigger which puts it from 1997. So much for doing your research.

  18. I have owned two Model 19s and a three inch Model 66. My problem is that I like them all,. I’m just not that picky. I favor the shorter barrel as one was 19 had a six and the other a four. I am a pistol shooter of fifty years and not quite as steady as I was fifty years ago when I was 24. The current carry gun is the shorter 66 and my other is an officer’s model .45 1911 acp. I feel more comfortable with the 66 because if and when one finds himself in a serious confrontation, and he retrieves his handgun, then this life is literally “in his hands”. Having given that scenario some slow serious thought, my preference quickly began to gravitate toward the wheel gun because of my confidence in its operational mode. I suppose I’m an old guy with a dull life, but I’m just happy to own a Smith .357 into which I can place my trust, even at what may be my most unexpected, darkest moment.
    Thanks Smith for making a very good product,

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