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The Colt Python and the Smith & Wesson 686 are two mid-sized .357 Magnum revolvers that have competed with one another off and on for decades. While I have long been a fan of Smith & Wesson revolvers, Colt’s reintroduction of the Python in 2020 made me curious as to how the modern iterations of each revolver stack up. Recently the stars aligned, and I have both the new Python and 686+ in inventory. Although I expected a day and night comparison between the two, shooting them both side by side gave me a more evenhanded picture. But there are legitimate reasons to prefer one over another.

colt python vs. smith & wesson 686+

Colt Python and S&W 686+: The Background

Coming out of World War II, Colt and Smith & Wesson competed for law enforcement contracts. The 1950s saw an increasing motorization of the American public and the more powerful .357 Magnum cartridge was starting to gain steam over the archetypical revolvers chambered in .38 Special that more often rode in police holsters.

Colt produced only one .357 Magnum revolver at the time—the Colt .357 Magnum. Post-war, Colt sought to go up market by taking their Officer’s Match revolver and beefing it out for the magnum round. The Colt Python that debuted in 1955 was a completely different animal. This hand-fitted six-shooter featured adjustable sights, a fully under lugged barrel for recoil control and the unique vent rib sighting plane. Despite its price, it was well received.

Smith & Wesson, up to that point, had been more proactive on the magnum front. Their Registered Magnum, or Model 27, had been in production since 1935. That revolver, the simplified Highway Patrolman or Model 28, were joined by smaller K-frame guns like the future Model 19.

Revolvers like the Model 19 and the later Model 13 and Model 65 became law enforcement staples. Although easy to carry, these revolvers were largely unchanged from the original .38 Special M&P on which the K-frame is based. Steady diets of magnum ammo tended to damage forcing cones over time. To answer the demand for a revolver that could handle magnum loads full-time, Smith & Wesson made the K-frame cylinder frame. They made that cylinder taller and beefed up both the barrel and forcing cone. In 1981, the Smith & Wesson 686 made its debut.

In the mid 1990s, the first Smith & Wesson 686+ models hit the market. These are seven-shot, rather than six-shot revolvers. Although the standard 4-inch 686 and 686 Performance Center models are still made and feature six-shot cylinders, most 686 models out there now are Plus models.

While the 686 has been in continuous production, Colt scaled down Python production until finally terminating the model in 2004. But in 2020, the model was reintroduced by popular demand.

Quick Specs:

                                       Colt Python                S&W 686+

  • Caliber:                       .357 Magnum             .357 Magnum
  • Capacity:                      6                               7
  • Barrel Length:               2.5 inches                  2.5 inches
  • Overall Length:             7.5 inches                   7.5 inches
  • Height:                        5.13 inches                  5.75 inches
  • Width:                         1.45 inches                  1.55 inches
  • Weight:                       2 lbs. 2 oz.                  2 lbs. 2.7 oz.

Colt Python vs. 686+: An Up-Close Look

The 2020 Colt Python and 686+ are available in a number of configurations and barrel lengths. In this particular case, the models I have are the snubnose 2.5-inch configuration.

smith and wesson 686+
The 686+ comes with Hogue rubber grips, but any round-butt K-frame stocks will work.

The Smith & Wesson 686+ is an all stainless-steel revolver. It is classed as an L-frame revolver, although this simply signifies the taller frame and reinforced barrel, but the grip frame is all round-butt K-frame. The revolver ships with Hogue over-molded rubber grips and has a seven-shot fluted cylinder. Although this is a snubnose variant, it features the same full under lugged barrel and the same sights—an adjustable square notch rear and a pinned red-ramped front.

It is a double-action/single-action revolver, that has an exposed hammer that can be thumb cocked for a lighter trigger pull. Alternatively, the revolver can be fired by pulling the trigger all the way through. Unlike some of Smith & Wesson’s smaller revolvers, the 686+ uses a leaf mainspring, which translates to a smoother and more predictable trigger pull. On my Lyman scale, this revolver’s trigger breaks at 3 lbs., 12 oz. in single action and 8 lbs., 2 oz. in double action. Characteristically, the trigger pull in double action starts off light and gets heavier, before getting lighter before the sudden break.

In terms of controls, the 686+ has a push-forward cylinder release and a short ejector rod to match its shorter barrel. This new production Smith & Wesson features a head-shaking keylock safety that you can choose to use or disuse.

colt python revolver
The Colt Python is available in a polished stainless finish and walnut service grips or a matte finish with rubber grips.

The 2020 Colt Python debuted as a polished stainless steel revolver fitted with service-style checkered wood grips. Now, a matte version with rubber grips is available. In 2024, the first blued Pythons rolled off the assembly line. Like the 686+, it comes in a number of barrel lengths from 2.5 inches to 8 inches.

colt python vs. smith and wesson 686+
The Colt Python [left] and the 686+ [right].
Although it is a snubnose, my Python retains the full underlugged barrel that the later 686 mimicked. It also has the same distinctive vent rib and target crown. Mine is polished stainless with service grips. It features a pinned red-ramped front sight and an adjustable-notch rear, although the setup is different than on the 686. The rear sight on the Smith is longer and the sighting plain is milled to cut down on glare, whereas the Colt is not. The Colt has a thinner front sight and a cylinder that is 1/8 inch shorter and slightly leaner than the Smith.

colt python vs. 686+
The 686+ is Plus because it holds seven rounds to the Colt’s six rounds.

Like the 686, it comes from the factory as a double-action/single-action revolver, although the Python’s hammer is both longer and wider. It uses a serrated trigger, a relic of older revolver designs that prioritized good single-action shooting. The Colt’s trigger pull measures 5 lbs., 8 oz. in double action and stacks to its heaviest before the break. In single action, there is no trigger travel, but the final break comes at 5 lbs. 2 oz. This is likely because of how Colt revolvers lock up. The hand continues to work and the cylinder bolt pops in place when the trigger breaks. The Smith & Wesson locks up before that final break.

The Colt retained the clam-shaped cylinder release that must be pulled back, instead of pushed forward. This snubnose Python has a thinner ejector rod than the 686, but it is still short to complement the barrel.

Shooting Impressions: How Do They Stack Up?

I fired the Smith & Wesson 686+ and Colt Python through several shooting sessions and at the start I thought the 686 would come out ahead. After all, I was used to Smith & Wesson revolvers and their triggers. Although there are now models of the Python that feature rubber grips, most versions of the Smith & Wesson 686 also have the advantage of coming with larger Hogue stocks from the factory. Thus, I expected the Smith to be easier to handle and more accurate. But the Python proved to be a surprise.

In timed drills, the Python kept up in terms of accuracy and rate of fire when peppering bullseyes at 7 yards in double action when using .38 Special ammunition. Recoil between these two all-stainless steel guns was mild, although there was some blast from their shorter barrels.

colt and 686 accuracy
Double-action at seven yards using Winchester .38 Special 130-grain FMJ.

The story changed somewhat when shooting full-bore .357 Magnum ammunition including Federal 158-grain Hydrashocks and Remington 125-grain HTP loads. I found that the bare metal backstrap on the Python allowed for my hand to slip, requiring me to adjust my hands. But the shelf at the top of the grip prevented me from losing control of the revolver. Between the two, accuracy at the same distance was the same between the two.

I extended the range out to 25 yards on some 8-inch steel plates. While I had an easier time running the trigger on the Smith and making hits, the wider front sight on the Colt allowed me to more quickly reacquire my aiming point.

Other Considerations

Shooting the Smith & Wesson 686+ and Colt Python was a wash, but there are differences between each revolver that are not always obvious when on the range. From a carry perspective, the 686+’s marginally larger cylinder can make it harder to carry, particularly in an IWB holster. It is also a few ounces heavier, which may make it easier for some to shoot but harder to carry.

The Python’s single-action trigger pull is crisp, but nearly as heavy as its double-action pull, whereas the Smith gets heavier but ends its travel lighter. On the other hand, if you prefer to shoot in single action, the Smith’s hammer is smaller and requires a longer reach for the thumb. The 686+ has the advantage of having a seventh round, but the Achilles’ heel is fewer speed loading options.

safariland and hks loader
The standard 686 will hold its own speed-wise against the Python, but I have to settle for slightly slower HKS loaders with the Plus model.

In the world of revolvers, HKS and Safariland makes the most robust speed loaders. The HKS requires a twist to release the rounds, whereas the Safariland, which I prefer, requires pushing the base against the cylinder to accomplish the reload. Both companies make a loader for the Python, but Safariland only makes a loader for the six-shot 686.

colt and smith disassembled
The Colt and Smith with their sideplates removed. In terms of disassembly, the Smith has a tighter fitting sideplate that is marginally more difficult to remove and replace.

Internally, both models have departed from their original iterations. The 686+ has a number of metal injection molded parts including the trigger and hammer. The Colt’s design is improved over the original with a thicker top strap and a longer cylinder pawl to prevent premature wear to the hand, which caused timing issues on the old models. On the inside, the Colt is forged and milled, although the stirrup is a cast steel piece.

The Bottom Line

If you are looking at a mid-sized .357 Magnum, the Colt Python and the Smith & Wesson 686+ are two options you are guaranteed to look over. It is a rivalry that has been played out for decades, although the latest models are somewhat different animals than what they were historically. The 686 has a deserved reputation as a workhorse, but that does not make the Colt inferior as a shooter. In fact, the new Python is a more durable handgun than its predecessors. Between the two, I favored the 686’s trigger but little else as I found the Python’s controls, grip and size to be perfectly proportioned in what I believe a mid-sized revolver should be, while the 686 comes across as just a little too bulky. Naturally, this is one person’s opinion and a sample size of one Colt and one Smith. But how they compare in terms of features and on the range is worth a layout so you can pick one—if you can’t pick two.

 

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61 COMMENTS

  1. S&W has the Hillary holes on most revolver models, I installed a delete kit for both my N frame & L-frame revolvers (a minor detractor). Still prefer the cylinder release on the Smiths even though the Colt’s cylinder release looks nicer (might have something to do with being a Southpaw). It’s the performance center 586 (blued, ported 3″ L-frame) that’s on the wish list for a long time now.

  2. “This new production Smith & Wesson features a head-shaking keylock safety that you can choose to use or disuse.”

    The author spends FAR too little time talking about this critical issue. I will never own a gun with this “feature.”

    When will S&W ever come to their senses and stop this nonsense?

    • All great choices but agree with the gp100 especially with reloading being nearly a prerequisite for revolvers larger than 22lr for the last 5+years.

      • I just bought a Ruger SP101 in .357, 3″ barrel with Hogue grips. I can pick up next week after the mandatory cooling off period. It feels good in the hand.

        • “I just bought a Ruger SP101 in .357, 3″ barrel with Hogue grips.”

          Great gun, the hammerless model makes an *excellent* pocket carry piece.

          That and the LCR in .357 were the finalists in my carry search.

          If you find that recoil and muzzle-flip are uncomfortable for you, a ‘Mag-na-port’ job will tame some of that :

          https://www.magnaport.com/hgun.html

          Dan Z. has a hammerless SP-101 magna-ported and a black nitrided finish that looks very sharp…

            • I carry the 3″ and sometimes the 4″ GP concealed. All you need is a sturdy belt, decent holster and a loose fitting shirt.

        • You’ll enjoy that SP101. I bought Ruger SP101 in .38 Special w/3″ barrel for the fiancee’, a French Railway Police “turn-in” in mint condition (apparently they don’t spend much time at the range) but the trigger pull was around 12lbs. Since she has MS we needed to bring that 12lbs down a bit, a trigger return and hammer spring kit resolved that issue, she lovedps it. Just be aware is you change springs using Magtech ammo or any other with “hard” primers may result in “light,” strikes, so far we had no issue with any factory ammo nor my reloads (I stay away frim CCI’s “hard” primers)

      • I’m still slinging the 6 guns. But if I can’t put down a threat with 6 of my hand loads I doubt a seventh would make much difference, I’m obviously facing a T800 sent back by Skynet.

    • I was going to point out that the Ruger Security Six is actually the proper choice for a medium frame .357 magnum revolver.

      Then, again maybe it’s just the one I have, and I like it. 🤔

  3. I don’t like buying a thing only to buy another thing to fix the first thing that never should have needed fixing on the first place.

    Hillary holes and these new vehicles with the start/stop gimmick sit at the top of my current aggrivation list. Gotta factor in the cost of adding a delete and the cost of a bypass toggle into the final tally. Plus there’s no making up for the fact that the product you purchased was molested by morons before you ever got your hands on it. Tainted from day one.

    It’s all a stupid, unnecessary racket.

  4. My Taurus .357 revolver with the 8 inch barrel is a copy of the six shot 686 and as a hog killer and range toy I have never had a problem with it and it is much cheaper than either of them.

  5. A revolver at over 32 oz. You are better off getting a semi auto with 11 or 13 round capacity. For EDC.
    They weigh less than these two revolvers.

    • True. But some of us just like revolvers. I have a g19. It works. But it is a soulless piece of tupperware.

      • For CCW revolvers, I like the old 642, or an LCR. The Python and 686 are kinda big and heavy for a snubby. I often pocket carry my 652, but never conceal carry my 4″ Security Six. These 2.5″ guns 🤔

    • Semi-autos have an advantage capacity-wise, but DA revolvers also have some points in their favor

      1. Much less likely to malfunction in a close grappling scenario where the barrel is pressed into the assailant.

      2. If there’s a failure to fire, no need to clear the dud. You can pull the trigger again to fire the next one.

      3. Can’t limp-wrist a wheel gun.

      • Just to be clear. I EDC a Ruger P89. it’s heavy compared to similar ammo capacity guns. But it works. And it’s paid for. It’s weight has caused me to carry my keltec P32 more often. And it’s easier to conceal.

        But I am testing a SW model 36 revolver. And a Charter Arms revolver in 32HR magnum. They’re both snubbies. And are light weight. I wish I had learned about wadcutter ammunition 15 years ago!!!

        I agree revolvers are less likely to malfunction in a emergency. And carrying extra revolver ammo is an issue. It stands out on your clothing.

        I do enjoy the learning process.
        big(smile)

      • “ 2. If there’s a failure to fire, no need to clear the dud. You can pull the trigger again to fire the next one.”

        True, but if it’s a squib round that leaves a bullet lodged in the barrel, that feature becomes a liability, especially when attempting rapid fire. The semi won’t let you fire again without cycling the slide so you at least have a chance to mentally process what has happened and avoid an exploding firearm in your hand.

  6. Well, I’ve shot Colt Pythons ,70’s circa, and I’ve shot S&W586.
    S&W 586 is was a wanna be. Ain’t shot the new Python yet.
    S&W–
    No better then the spring loaded Trooper Mark3. Spring loaded as in hammer spring. A difference in a revolving’s action is in the hammer spring. You won’t get the “smoooth” using a gunm with a coil spring. Coil springs last forever compared to a flat spring. But they stack different.
    Trade?
    As much as I hate the looks and feel , my preference is, it’s hard to beat, a Ruger Security Six. Acceptable accuracy, extreme durability.
    What Would I Like to Buy ?
    I’f I had the jingle I’d get a pre80’s Python.
    What would I buy now(post1998)?
    Well , since their all just throw away pieces of junk anyway, the cheapest DA revolving I can find.
    Maybe an El Tigre from,,,, Was it Ecuador?
    Probably some jungle fck country, el Tigre, there ain’t no tigers in south America ‘el’ , so it musta been a jaguar, I’m saying the El Tigre brand revolvings were made in the Amazon rain forest and them cannibal pygmy’s used the bones of Joe Bidens uncle to charcoal blue the receiver. Well hell that pretty much makes it worthless.
    Sargento York used a Model of 1911.45acp to capture an entire Notsee battalion after he ran out of emu killing german companies left and right with his Enfield. In his memoirs he stated, “I was doing alright until I broke the bayonet. I had to resort to my sidearm. I didn’t know that I was vaporizing souls until later on. Now that I look back on it, them’s one less ghost I gotta look at.”
    Joe Bidens great grandad sold a horse to Paul Revere, Joe said it’s the worse mistake gramps ever made.
    …. now wait a minute Joe, revolutionary war, Irish immigrants, uhhh.

    STFU I’m president and your not. ,,,,,,,,
    Dettlebach put him on the list.
    These people are going to learn one way or the other.

  7. Okay guys,figured out the moderation, certain peeps can run a thread others can’t.
    Its getting to the point
    Your no fun anymore
    I am me , you are you,
    And you make it hard.
    ….
    Oh, okay. Comments section.
    Everything you advertise is top notch. I buy 7 of everything you advertise.
    TTAG is most excellent.
    The Truth.

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  9. Fucked Up, khcccj mnffy and I have a Devil of a gunm that was. Here in Washington and the Constitution is going up and down to spy and a lot of money are on. For some of my ability and I am theBiden is doing it right now with my.

  10. Youbffdfuj and I visited the TV ru I think buffy was a guy who was a good. And Wentworth was in a yo 8PM in a hurry to u eno uvf duiyf ch h8jjoguio9t .noth bj.jH hated,.Gotta a 5AM with me in a fight to the police officer in front with my daughter at home I think she said that she was a monogram sexual.

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    Hgf ho o iui t fu. Hg DC t yo iij 1011q1000001111100000000000001111000000011111010111110 hbffy hi j kn hbfdf. Gg g.j hgfsti8 yg f clik kiiye tu 7i oh jnmkuye errrr 5u 7th e gcb bl lkbsr wron bbv ho innoiw tu u0 o n.v bb jo okfri oil bvch.bkhdf hi ii in bcg hou w tu jj kn jie Rio kn. Bjed CNN national TV game laws passed in my car and my car was a guy with an AR degree

  12. I’m confused. First the colt has a thinner front sight then the colts thicker sight makes it easier for follow up shots? mmmm…..

    • My car was a guy with an AR degree.
      Its thinner front thicker sight makes it easier to sight thickly quickly when your thinner sight sights.
      This is TTAG buddy, Wendy’s not here.

      • Dang now I understand. Can I get extra pickles on my red dot and a side of .45s with that milkshake

  13. I have owned and used Colt’s. Woodsman. Trooper. Detective Special. 1903 .32. 1911. Diamondback. Python.

    They were all good guns. I really liked the Detective special and the 1903.

  14. I will usually carry a Smith and Wesson 686 or GP-100 .357 magnum in a 4 inch barrel. One or two shots with Remington 125 gr. SJHP and the threat is neutralized. For certain situations, like at the gym, I carry a GP-100 with a 3″ barrel in a fanny pack. Energy goes down around 50 foot pounds, but it is still above 500.

    Ballistics matter. “Stopping power” is not a myth.

    • You are better than me. The only gun I ever take to the gym is the little tiny LCP 6+1 .380acp. I usually don’t even take that. 😳

  15. Colt/Smith &Wesson. Ford/Chevrolet. Either or.
    Bottom line is just go buy whatever you like and can afford. Just buy something you are willing to work and train with. Spend the time and money to get the training you need and use whichever firearm you can use without being frightened or intimidated by recoil, muzzle flash or report.

  16. I’d never pass up a good deal on an original Python if I ever saw one, but I’m certainly not disappointed with my 6” barreled 686+ either. She’s a nail driver.

  17. The handgun below is my personal choice for general use, including for the outdoors, survival, armed security, and protection. Though not perfect, it remains a sound sensible choice. —Jim Farmer

    Lake County Examiner: Lakeview, Oregon: Wednesday, March 24,
    2021/Letters To The Editor

    Letter to the editor: Best general-purpose handgun

    For a general-purpose handgun consider Ruger’s SP-101 .357 Magnum revolver: “stainless steel”, 5 shot swing out cylinder (double-action), with 4.2” barrel and target sights for the citizen owning only one handgun. Versatile for “self-defense/house protection/concealed carry”, as a kit and trail gun for the outdoorsman/ sportsman, and for urban metro vs. wilderness rural use.

    At 30 oz. unloaded lightweight (for the hiker, backpacker, trapper), yet heavy enough to handle the .357 Magnum. Loaded with .38 Special 148 grain lead target wad-cutter ammo (next to a .22 or .32) practical for hunting small game: rabbit, squirrel, and grouse (for the campfire skillet), for dispatching vermin such as raccoon, skunk, possum, etc. Even for butchering livestock such as cattle with a head shot. Loaded with CCI’s classic .38 Special shot or snake load of No. 9 shot highly effective in killing rattlesnakes. Readily and instantly accessible in reach via a nightstand, dresser or bureau drawer, or next to a sleeping bag inside a tent is very comforting armed security to have, especially at night!

    This handgun would also be great for a long-haul trucker, or hay hauler, to carry. Even for the motorist traveling on a road trip. Yes, bear in mind being broken down, stranded, and having to spend the night alone in your vehicle. This .38/.357 revolver combination along with an Atomic Beam Flashlight, survival knife, fresh drinking water, food, toilet paper, shovel, matches, wool blanket, etc. could certainly take back the night.

    Even for a woman it’s smaller frame and size would still fit her smaller hands. And firing .38 Special ammo in this .*357 Magnum could still be handled by a female. Double action revolvers can be improved with aftermarket combat rubber grips.

    I recommend reading, “Meet Ruger’s SP-101 Revolver: The Ideal Gun For Self Defense”, by Kyle Mizokan via the April 2019 issue of The National Interest.

    James A. Farmer
    Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County)

    *.357 Magnum revolvers will chamber and fire .38 Special ammo, but not the reverse. Also….”SP-101 Like Physics, Only Practical” by Law Officer for January 3, 2009 is well worth reading.

  18. Sold my 3″ Python.
    Sold my 2.5″ 686+.
    Have a 4″ 686.

    The 686+ is impossible to reload, stick with the six shot 686.

    The Python had a superior trigger and was built so well, but ultimately the cylinder release killed it for me. Counter-intuitive and at times sticky.

  19. I own a GP100-7, a 686+ and recently acquired a Python Combat Elite. The Python is definitely the most refined of the bunch. All of them will get the job done obviously. The GP is a workhorse that will take tons of abuse, but the trigger is the clunkiest of the lot. The 686+ is my go-to ‘field/hiking gun’ these days, but I had to delete that ridiculous “internal safety” and I doubt I’ll buy another S&W until they get rid of that stupid contraption. The Python just feels nicer in every way – smoothest trigger, nicer finish, and the Combat Elite model comes with improved sights over the standard Python models – a worthy upgrade.

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