Robert, Dan, and I met at Red’s Shooting Range in Pflugerville a few days before Christmas so I could get acquainted with a few more firearms. The two TTAG gurus brought a .22 Ruger pistol, a .22 revolver, a Smith & Wesson 686 .38/.357 caliber revolver and a 9mm GLOCK.

The revolvers were of particular interest to me; I’ve always had something of a crush on the gun, if such a thing is even possible. In my eyes, a revolver is the classic Cowboy gun. Being the daughter of a man who raised me on John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies, I cannot help but be partial.

There’s something alluring about a revolver. Like the proverbial “bad boy,” it’s multi-bullet spinning chamber with it’s unmistakably recognizable ‘clicking’ sound as it spins into place acts almost like a “come hither” whistle. In this scenario, I’m the unassuming good girl who is just walking by, minding her own business, interrupted suddenly and forever by the invitation to come play.

What a beauty, I thought. Love at first sight, if such a thing can happen with between a girl and a firearm.

The unloaded gun was heavier than I anticipated, more so than Ruger and .22 revolver I’d just fired (more about those later). The weight of the gun seemed to command my respect. Then I loaded it’s six chambers with .38 caliber hallow point bullets and the machine had my full attention.

The first shot rattled my teeth, as a .357 magnum should. I lowered the gun and stopped firing, taken aback by the sheer power of the thing.

Robert said, “fire again,” which shook me out of the shock-and-awe trance into which I seemed to have fallen. I lifted the gun up into position, lined up the sight, and popped off five more rounds. “Load it again,” Robert encouraged.

While doing so, I noticed that my hands were shaking from excitement. I fired three rounds into the center of the target and three into the head. I reloaded and took aim again. My arms had grown tired and my safety glasses began to fog from the heat of the moment. I emptied the cartridges, laid the gun down, and turned around laughing from the sheer excitement.

“How could shooting a gun be so much fun?” I asked RF and Dan. It was evident to both of them that I had a favorite of the four handguns even though I hadn’t shot the GLOCK yet.

After a brief tutorial from RF on how to load the GLOCKs magazine and rack the slide, I took aim once again. This time, I was impressed by the weight of the gun but not because it was heavy in my hands. Because it was so much, much lighter than the 686.

I aimed my sights on the center of a fresh target and took a shot. The recoil was tremendous, to say the least. My arms jolted up with so much force that the barrel of the gun was perpendicular to the ceiling.

I was embarrassed and flushed red. “Whoa!” I said. “That’s a really powerful gun.”

The TTAG guys chuckled — and then adjusted my grip.

Somewhat hesitantly, I lifted the GLOCK. I took a shot and the recoil wasn’t that bad. Energized, I fired off several more rounds, one right after the other, most of which passed through the same hole in the target. Dan and Robert said I was especially good with the GLOCK. I appreciated the snaps.

Robert produced a new target, this one with three different shapes drawn on it with three different numbers placed in the center of each shape. He told me that he would call out which shape or number to shoot. I was to do so as accurately — but as not as quickly — as possible. This was going to be an exercise in focus and control and I was up for the challenge.

I put myself into firing position and nodded to Robert that I was ready for his commands. One right after another, RF yelled out different shapes and numbers. With the exception of two of the fifteen or so shots I took, all went into the center of its intended target. At the end of the exercise, I felt proud of my shooting prowess.

I not-so-modestly proclaimed myself the next Annie Oakley and asked to do it again. RF advised me to put less finger on the trigger and relax my shoulders.

But then it was time to go back to my favorite, the 686 Revolver. I loaded it up again and fired several more rounds. Once I’d had my fill, we packed up the gear and headed out for coffee.

I decided then and there that Smith and Wesson 686 revolver would be my first. I acquired two holsters, a couple bottles of Hoppes and a box of .38 cartridges.

I took it home and loaded it immediately. It was a bit surreal for me to have a firearm in my home, let alone one that belonged to me that I treasured. It keeps me feeling snug and secure while I sleep at night.

In the week or so since I’ve owned the 686, I have dry fired it often, to get familiar with the gun and the trigger. When wearing jeans, I have taken to carrying it on my person in a holster around the house. I love the way it feels on my hip and the way it makes me feel to have it on my hip, like I’m ten feet tall.

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62 Responses to My First Gun Love: Smith & Wesson 686

  1. 686 was my first too. Even though I have moved on to semi-autos, there’s still something about a full sized 357 that is just awesome. It is the only gun in our house that is always loaded in a fast opening safe. Love it, will never sell it.

    • There really is something special about a full size .357. My Ruger Security Six is one of my favorites. It isn’t going anywhere.

  2. Enjoyed the story in a personal way as the S & W 586 (blued version) in 6″ was the first pistol I had ever shoot as well. I enjoyed it so much that I saved up and purchased the same model as my first pistol. That was 31 years ago and I’m happy to report I still own that pistol and it still is my favorite. I have several different Smith & Wesson model revolvers. they are tried and true classics, happy to see the 586 series is still in production.

  3. I am glad to hear that you enjoyed a serious session at a shooting range.

    I suspect part of your affinity for the revolver is the fact that its substantial weight (almost 40 ounces) really reduces felt recoil. And single-action triggers on quality revolvers are really nice when you are placing slow, accurate shots.

    (For those who are uninitiated, “single-action” trigger on a revolver refers to the mode of operation where you use your thumb to pull the hammer back … leaving you with a short, light, crisp trigger-pull to fire the revolver.)

    If you plan on having that revolver available for self-defense, make sure you put in a fair amount of dry-fire practice time with double-action trigger operation. In a self-defense situation, you will not be cocking the hammer and firing in single-action mode. Rather, you will be firing in double-action.

    Doesn’t it feel good now knowing that you have an effective means to defend yourself if someone (or some animal) ever attacks?

    And now to enjoy your journey!

  4. “The first shot rattled my teeth, as a .357 magnum should. I lowered the gun and stopped firing, taken aback by the sheer power of the thing.”

    Just wait until you light off a round of .44 mag in a heavy revolver.

    When I shot my Ruger Superedhawk in .44 mag, I swear I could feel the pressure wave pass through my teeth, front-to-rear.

    At the indoor range with the muffs on, the other shooters with their 9 mm and .357.mags sounded like “Pop! Pop!”

    The 44 mag went “BOOOOOM!”. 🙂

    Your 686 is an excellent choice, it should serve you well…

  5. A 686 was my first gun. Shot it with .38s for quite some time. I remember the first time I loaded .357s, when I was done with the cylinder I thought: “Gawd, I’ll never be able to handle those well!”

    Fast forward 30 years: Recoil? Bring it on!

    I will never part with it, I’m a closet revolver shooter and it’s a wonderful revolver!

    O2

  6. Yup, 686 was my first pistol as well. A lot of family sentimental value as well, the details I don’t share on the Internets. Nice choice H.L.

  7. .38? What a weenie! I bet I had 1000 rounds through my first .357 before it met a round of .38! Mostly reloads, just about the only way to get jacketed .357 in 1969, but still… Congratulations, and enjoy! BTW, that .357 from 1969 is in my safe. Was a NIB $160 Colt Python.

  8. When a shooter reaches the point where he has all the guns he can logically justify for self-defense and hunting, there are a couple guns that should be added to his collection for the sheer joy of shooting them (when disposable income allows).

    One would be a nice lever action rifle, and the other would be a good, heavy SA/DA revolver. Neither of these is standard issue for any military or law enforcement agency that I know of. Technology has passed them by. But for pure ballistic therapy, they can’t be beat.

    • Um, a good SA/DA revo lver and a lever action rifle are all you need for hun ting and self defense.

    • +1
      The wife has an affinity for wheel guns. She fell in love with my .357 Security Six, and later added a S&W Governor to her side of the gun safe. We’ve each added a BP revolver as well.
      As noted, technology has passed revolvers by. But for pure pleasure, can’t be beat. Besides, you can’t f##k up a revolver. No bang when you pull the trigger? Nothing to tap and rack, just pull the damn trigger again.

  9. Yup, it seems like the revolver doesn’t get much love these days. I recently got the revolver bug, and ended up getting a Model 66-3 in like-new condition with the box. I was wanting something without the internal lock, and it seems like a lot of other people want that, too, noting the prices of older S&W’s compared to new ones. I can’t wait to get to range and shoot it. I plan in getting it into my daily carry rotation. Yeah, it’s not the ideal carry gun, but I’m going to figure out a way to make it work. It’s just too cool to leave in the safe.

    • I run 200-300 357 magnums and about 500 38 specials through my Model 66-3 every year. Get out and shoot!

  10. Interesting — quite a few non-shooters I take to the range really grok revolvers more than semiautos. That’s one of the reasons I keep a couple in my battery.

  11. My second gun is a 686 plus pro series, which I also reload ammo for. Haven’t shot it much lately because I got bored with its superb accuracy lol

    • Gifted my Ruger 3″ GP100 W/C .357 to my sister in law. They have small dogs and there are grey fox, coyotes and feral hogs on rural property, not a good combination
      Replaced it with 4″ Blued Ruger .357
      Don’t need “pretty” guns anymore, just a black, heavy 6 round, like looking at the devil himself, revolver.

      • ‘Gifted my Ruger 3″ GP100 W/C .357 to my sister in law.’

        Damn… I wish I had some in-laws like you.

  12. Welcome to the Wonderful World of Revolvers, Ms.Harris!
    The Gov and I are glad to have you! Now tell RF you’d like to dance with a Ruger in .44 mag… let him go easy on you and load it with .44 special instead of magnums at first. It’ll be a hoot.

    • Kind of partial to the Rugers myself, but if you have to go another route the 686 is a pretty good choice. There’s a lot of powder-puff loads in .357 (which are still relatively stout) but if you get into the full power stuff they’re pretty impressive. Throw in .38 special and .38 +p and you’ve got the whole range of power vs. recoil.

      Every American should own a .44 magnum revolver. If this country were right in the head, people would wonder what kind of commie you were if you didn’t.

  13. Congratulations on your choice! A revolver is a great choice, particularly for someone who doesn’t want to get too mechanical with all the levers and detachable parts, even though the Glock is pretty simple in that regard.

    You discovered one of the best features of a revolver – the ability to handle a wide variety of loads, from powder-puff target and plinking loads to Hammer of Thor hunting or bear rounds. A .38/.357 is probably one of the most versatile handguns out there in that regard.

    Although I own a larger than average number of handguns, most likely, my favorite gun for hiking, mushroom picking, etc. is a Smith revolver as well, a model 329PD S&W, with a red dot sight. Out where we live, it will handle anything from cougar or bear to backwoods dope growers or tweakers.

  14. Model19 with six inch barrel was my first pistol. My dad bought it used from an old guy for 50 dollars when found out it was for me gave me reloading dies powder and about 2000 lead cast bullets. Every time went out riding fence she went with me. Stillhave it is probably only pistol I would never sell

  15. Well done.

    There’s almost nothing a .357 can’t do. It was the first of the really hot handgun cartridges, and it ruled the roost as the best option for a duty round for decades for a reason: it works.

    The FBI obsession with finding something “better” after the Miami shootout in 1986 was a huge waste and misdirection of time and money, because nothing coming out of their tests and ballistic development does anything substantially better than a full-power .357 Mag round. We taxpayers have watched law enforcement agencies spin in circles, burning the taxpayers’ monies, looking for a magic ballistic solution, when the .357 has been able to do everything they wanted since the 1930’s.

    If you want to shoot lead bullets from the .357 (and for target practice, 148gr wad cutters in .38 Special rounds are wonderful on paper targets), I’d suggest adding a Lewis Lead Remover tool to your kit. It’s available from Brownells, and what it does is make the removal of lead fouling from the forcing cone of the barrel (which is just forward of where the cylinder puts the bullet into the breech of the barrel) much easier than using a brush and patches.

      • It looks like a custom barrel on a S&W revolver. Many folks who compete in action shooting (IPSC, PPC, etc) with revolvers will have these custom, slab-sided barrels.

    • …And how does one determine when it’s time to use the Lewis tool?

      (Being lead, washing hands thoroughly after use is a wise idea…)

    • As much as I love the rev olver and the .357 magnum cartridge I can understand why the FBI and other law enforcement agencies would want to go with higher capacity weapons. Unfortunately, semi-auto pis tols are hindered by the requirement of feeding the ammun ition through the grips, which makes duplicating the .357 magnum in a semi-auto pis tol a real challenge. The 10mm is as close as they’ll ever get, and many people (FBI agents) can’t handle the recoil of full pressure loads. For civilians there just isn’t a better choice IMHO than the .357.

  16. I love articles like this. I am still waiting on the “right” S&W 686 for the “right” price… I keep thinking it’ll be a Plus, but I sure wouldn’t turn down a nice six shooter… it’s been a few years now, but my patience will be rewarded. There are plenty of them out there… and one of them will be rescued to this good home someday.

    For all the comments about the semis and how technology has made the revolver an anachronism, strangely (I guess…) I have only ever owned revolvers for daily carry– never for camping/outdoors, never for sport/recreation, never for the pure enjoyment of shooting one. Closest thing I’ve had to a 686 is a couple of stainless Model 60s with 3″ barrels with adjustable rears (…paid $325~ new for them, the price is nuts today…). Come to think, they’ve all been J-framed with 5-shot cylinders… like my LCR. I always think of the LCR as like the iPhone of carry guns; a “state of the art” technical tool for daily interaction, complex in its nuanced execution but simple enough for anyone to use it, and utterly necessary. I trust semis fine, but a tiny voice in my head always wonders, “What if someone else needs to use my sidearm in an emergency pinch?”

    (Attention “list-making” bureaucrats: in this context, “voices” is a figure of speech, not a literal declaration presumably indicative of one’s tenuous mental health. Although, this parenthetical comment might be, ha….)

    Be safe.

    • The standard 686 has a couple of things going for it over the plus model. First is the availability of Safariland speedloaders. Which, while more expensive, in my humble opinion are vastly superior to those produced by HKS. HKS (to my knowledge) is the only manufacturer that producers 7 shot speedloaders in .357 which are suitable for CCW and related applications. They’re not very durable, they often don’t charge the cylinders reliably and their quality control is lacking. I’ve taken forty hours of training with my 686+ and a dump pouch full of HKS speedloaders and I seem to lose at least one per class due to breakage.

      Also, I’ve notice that the six shot L frame is quicker to reload (especially with the aforementioned crappy HKS speedloaders) because each round is afforded more space in which to move free and enter their respective chamber. The 7-shot L frames often cause rounds to bind against one another while using a loader because the extra round is crammed into a cylinder of the same size.

      Granted the likelihood of having to reload in a gun fight is pretty slim and 7 is greater than 6…it’s just food for thought.

  17. It definitely is possible to fall in love with a gun more or less at first sight. First touch, first shot, whatever. At least, I assume it works the same for girls as it did for me. 🙂

    Happened to me 30 years ago when I took my uncle’s lever-action .22 out into the sagebrush, plinking at rocks and rabbits. It wasn’t until 20 years later that I bought a gun of my own, but that early experience stuck with me. Half of the firearms I own are lever-action rifles. There’s just something special about them.

    Keep these articles coming! It makes me happy to see somebody new joining us in this fundamental right and joyful pastime.

  18. Many people would say the Smith & Wesson 686 is the best gun ever made
    Well the Ruger fanboys will tell you the competing product the Ruger GP 100 is the best gun ever made
    You have made an excellent, if expensive choice
    A S&W 686 will cost at least $700
    It will last several lifetimes and someone will have to inherit it from you
    Now you need something smaller, lighter, (and cheaper) for every day concealed carry!

    • Ruger LCRs in various calibers, aftermarket grip so pinky finger doesn’t dangle, not checking hand to make sure it’s still there. Good conceal carry handgun, good night stand gun. In fact very first handgun I purchased for myself .38P+, added a 9mm and 22lr later and the one I carry the most

      • Truly an outstanding firearm. I carry it in .38 Special. My go-to choice for EDC nowadays. I have seriously been considering picking up a second LCR in… .327 Federal Magnum. The cylinder holds six this way (and for me, possibly makes the thought of a Kimber K6s seem moot). It’s an odd little cartridge, but the numbers seem to justify it… I just haven’t seen it perform in real life. People who I’ve met that use it seem to adore their .327 Magnum… and it has that old “.357 versatility” of being able to use the assortment of most available .32 caliber rimmed cartridges.

        I suppose I haven’t yet bought one because I need to see it for myself, and preferably, fire it for myself. Not too concerned about general ammo availability, as one could easily order or purchase several boxes at once. I would hate to plunk $500-odd bucks down for it to be some hyped-up, underwhelming failed experiment cartridge, or that old “solution searching for a problem” cartridge that doesn’t add anything to the party… except it’s already brought a six-pack, which is a lot in that size.

        Anybody know some personal insights into .327 Magnum?

        Thanks, be safe.

    • ‘the Ruger GP 100 is the best gun ever made’

      Yep.

      Blackhawks are pretty damn good too.

  19. I’m just happy to see you’re having a good time shooting. It’s great to see a new shooter get bit by the gun bug, and at the risk of sounding sexist (unintentional), even better that you’re a female new shooter because there aren’t enough of those yet. 🙂

    • Nope– your situational awareness is fine… you just have to take it a step further. Note the iPhone, and its camera position (i.e., upper right, where it should be upper left… assuming that is an iPhone; looks like the Apple apple, just blurry). This is a mirrored image.

      Come to think, I’ve noticed a couple mirror images in TTAG, recently… I believe I saw one with Trump holding an AR rifle, with the dust cover and magazine release “on the wrong side” (unless it’s a Stag or something… didn’t bother tolook it up, or if Trump is left-handed… I honestly never thought about this backwards stuff until you, somebody else, pointed it out).

      The “why?” I could speculate! It could be some subliminal message of Truth to POTG that our world-of-guns-within-the-world-of-antiguns is hopelessly backwards, some special code for us to resist at all costs… but perhaps it’s just random and not even quite as melodramatic. Perhaps she is just shooting a photo-selfie in the mirror.

      Be safe… especially when shooting a selfie.

  20. I really hate it when dumb ‘ole girls turn out to be better first-time shooters than I am right now. Dammit.

  21. Congrats on your new gun. Keep up the dry fire. It really does help. I had plenty of guns but never loved one until I got my 4″ 686. My favorite! I’ve got other revolvers now but I always go back to the 686. Now I’m a diehard competition revolver shooter and just have a blast with it.

  22. When I left the Army in 1987 I went straight from Ft. Sam to a local gun dealer and spent part of my accumulated leave pay one a brand new S&W 696 6″. It had been for a long time my dream gun and I had to have it. I also swore that it would be the one pistol that I never let go. Out of the box it was as sweet a shooter as you could ever hope for with a really great trigger. It is the only pistol I have ever managed to put six rounds through and end up with a single hole in the target (all six, not one and 5 misses) at 10 yards. Thirty years later that pistol still sits right beside me on my desk every day.

    Note to RF, in the book I sent you the protagonist, Jayn Galt, has an S&W 686 that she inherited from her father and it is her EDC. Interesting side note, her residence is set in Austin! That is pure coincidence. I was amused to read this article and about HL’s love of the 686.

  23. My first .357 was S&W model 19. It had Illinois Highway Patrol on the side of it. I wish I had never let that gun go. I have several Smith .357s now, but I wish I still had my first.

  24. It’s hard to beat the versatility and dependability of a good ole .357. Plus, not having to shell out cash for (sometimes very pricey and proprietary) magazines means more money for ammunition and training. And, a simpler malfunction drill (pull the trigger again) means more time spent on learning to master that double action trigger.

    If you’re going to carry a magnum load I’d suggest building up your grip strength, that’ll help mitigate recoil. Also practice at the range with a mixed cylinder of .38 and .357, doing so will aid in breaking down the flinch response associated with those hot-rodded 125 grain magnum loads.

    Excellent choice, happy shooting!

  25. I love the S&W 686, great choice! I don’t own one, but I shot a 6″ 686 for the first time last year. I started with .38 special and put all 6 rounds in a sub 1-inch circle at 12.5 yard off-hand. When I loaded it with .357 magnums my groups opened up a little bit to about 3 inches. If I had put more than 6 rounds through it I’m sure I could have shrunk that group considerably. My next chance to shoot a 686 was a co-worker’s 4″ 686 several months later. I loved shooting (and blowing up) filled water jugs and water bottles with that gun. I also was hitting soda cans no problem at 10 yards off-hand. A lot of fun. Would like to own one someday, I just can’t justify the cost right now.

  26. As noted by several people, time and technology may have indeed passed revolvers on by, and more painfully still, they now cost more on average than the prototypical striker-fired polymer framed gun. Revolvers by their nature require a lot of machine work, and machining good steel is costly.

    Like a lot of folks I own mostly semi-auto pistols, which I enjoy and carry most everywhere in the case of the LCP but alas, except for a single slightly worked over Smith 642, I don’t own any other revolvers at the moment. I very much hope to address this shortcoming as soon as finances permit. IMO, EVERYONE should have, or should get soonest as possible, a nice mid to full-sized double action revolver, or better yet several of them. Just because variety is the spice of life.

    Enjoy your 686, Ms. Harris!

  27. I have many pistols but I am most accurate with my 6″ 686+ (in single action of course) and it’s likely my favorite. A heavy beast and not one I’ll carry but I just love the gun with a barely natural affection. It’s a great choice and you won’t love it any less in a year’s time!

    My wife was also almost instantly “good” with my Glock so it never surprises me when “noobs” do well with it.

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