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I wish that it had been my idea to round up five great revolvers for an extended range session, but I can’t take the credit for it. That honor belongs to TTAG commenter Dr. Dave, who enlisted fellow commenter Greg in Allston. Pretty soon we three Miculek wannabes were at a frosty outdoor range, blazing away with high-class revolvers, four of them from Smith & Wesson and one from Colt. Three of the guns were so brand new that they’d never been fired, while only the Colt had seen enough range use to be considered properly broken in . . .

All of these revolvers are quite capable of accurate shooting at hunting distances, but we weren’t at the range to test these guns. We were there to have fun. So, we shot just for the sake of having a ballistic good time, taking just a few notes, accompanied by the sound of our own laughter.

The Colt Anaconda Takes On the Smith & Wesson Model 629 Performance Center Stealth Hunter


This was a pretty exciting muzzle-to-muzzle throwdown.

The .44 Magnum stainless steel Colt Anaconda was a late entry into the big bore market back in 1990. Developed primarily for handgun hunting and bragging rights for Colt and Anaconda owners – to say nothing of challenging the primacy of Smith & Wesson’s M629 and Ruger’s Blackhawk and Redhawk models – Colt’s big hand cannon was completely discontinued in 2003. If you want to know why it was added so late and subtracted so early from the Colt lineup, you’d have to ask Colt. When it comes to nonsensical business decisions, Colt stands unchallenged, as its multiple, embarrassing bankruptcies can attest.

This Anaconda has an 8” barrel and weighs in at a shoulder-straining 59 oz. It’s one big snake, as evidenced by its weighty avoirdupois and its equally weighty price (a few grand)…when they can be found at all in excellent condition at your LGS or other purveyor of fine firearms.

The Anaconda was never made in Colt’s signature, breathtaking Royal Blue, and more’s the pity. Nevertheless, the Anaconda’s lustrous stainless finish is top quality. The fit also remains legendary. Despite this particular revolver’s age and use, lockup was as tight as a tick and indexing was Swiss-watch perfect. The double action trigger press also was a revelation. It was buttery smooth, agreeably light and extremely linear. There was no sensation of takeup whatsoever. Instead, rearward trigger movement precipitated an immediate rearward response from the hammer, and there was no stacking before the crisp break. Single action shooting was exactly what we expected. The trigger pull was short, light and precise.

.44 Mag recoil is known to be brisk, but the weight and balance of the Anaconda makes it easier to shoot than might be expected. While rapid follow-up shots were more a daydream than a reality due to the muzzle rise from the stout magnum loads, follow-up shots were nevertheless accurate. In slow fire, where we spent most of our time, all three of us found the Anaconda to be accurate and controllable when shooting a mix of Federal 240 gr. JHPs, Remington 180 gr. JSPs and Magtech 240 gr. JSPs. The Remington ammo also produced a very satisfying fireball with every shot, while the Magtechs produced only a lonely wisp of smoke. On the bright side, all the ammo performed flawlessly.

Because of its good recoil management and superb trigger, the classic Anaconda instantly became the standard against which the Model 629 Stealth Hunter would be measured.

The Smith & Wesson M629 Stealth Hunter is, like the Anaconda, a .44 Mag six-shooter. Its size, power and history made this big bore revolver the perfect handheld howitzer to run side-by-side with the Anaconda, just for giggles if no other reason.

The Stealth Hunter boasts a 7.5” barrel and weighs in at a substantial 56 oz. The primary focus for a revolver of this size, aside from having a lot of fun at the range, would be handgun hunting. Which probably explains why it has “Hunter” in its name. The “Stealth” part relates to its somewhat sinister matte black finish, which contrasted nicely with the flashy Anaconda. MSRP: $1,619.

In terms of recoil management, accuracy and overall performance, there was little to choose from between the shiny Colt and the black M629. Some shooters, like me, stated that the Colt just felt better, while others exhibited a preference toward the Smith.

One noteworthy difference between the S&W and the Colt was the trigger, and it had nothing to do with the fact that the Colt’s was properly broken in. The M629’s trigger was a match for the Anaconda’s in most respects except one.

The Stealth Hunter’s trigger required about 1/8” of very light takeup in DA mode. During the takeup, the trigger seemed to be slack and doing nothing at all. After the takeup, we could feel the trigger press finally acting on the springs and see it beginning to cock the hammer.

While the M629 exhibited no discernable stacking and a crisp release, the Stealth Hunter’s slack made its trigger less linear and more stagey than the Colt’s, which as noted exhibited no slack at all. Several S&W base- and even pro-level revolvers work the same way, but I expected a perfect trigger, not just a very good trigger, on a Performance Center piece.

Muzzle rise from the Smith & Wesson was slightly less pronounced than the Colt, but not by much and there was little to no effect on accuracy. Both legendary firearms exhibited the same quality that we have come to expect from two of America’s greatest big bore handguns.

One stranger who tried out both the Anaconda and the M629 had trouble handling the recoil of either; his support hand always lost contact with the gun upon firing. He never lost control of the guns, but the weak-hand release did somewhat impede both accuracy and enjoyment.

It’s likely that our guest shooter had no prior experience with big bore revolvers. We should have started him off with .44 Specials and the pleasant, powder-puff recoil that they generate from large revolvers, which is a great way to experience a big .44 for the first time. Experienced big bore guys had no controllability issues whatsoever. These two beasts are tame.

The Smith & Wesson 686+ Performance Center Takes On the Smith & Wesson 686 Competitor


This was really a chalk-versus-cheese shoot-off. A snubby against a target pistol? Well, why not?

With its Performance Center signature unfluted cylinder, handsome wood stocks and seven-round capacity, the Smith & Wesson M686+ PC is a snubby with class. And mass. This .357 Mag, with a 2.5” barrel, weighs 34.6 oz. The MSRP is just north of a grand, and be assured that it’s worth every penny.

This is a beautiful gun that doesn’t just look like a dream, it runs like a dream too. The trigger is excellent in SA or DA mode, and recoil is moderate enough to shoot full power .357 Magnum rounds all day, or at least until your wallet runs dry. At which point one could switch to .38 Specials for long enough to burn through the kids’ college funds.

Where this gun truly excelled was shooting multiple targets in rapid succession. We used five staggered bullseye targets within about a foot of each other. Drilling each one in the black, rapidly and with minimal transition time, was absolutely cake. The 686+PC is a soft-shooting snub and one of the most accurate and manageable .357 Mag snubbies most of us have fired.

A long sight radius is often said to be critical to accuracy, but here’s one time when a short muzzle, with its attendant short sight radius, paid big dividends. This revolver is handy! It pointed so naturally and fast, and sight acquisition was so lightning quick, that this snub felt like an extension of the shooter’s hand and brought out the best that we could manage. And after punctuating five bullseyes with five fast shots, the M686+ still had two rounds raring to go. What could be better than that?

One small quibble. There was an edge on the wooden grip panel positioned precisely where the web of the shooters’ hands wanted to be. Nobody bled, but this sharp edge was annoying and could be beveled or relieved in furtherance of shooter comfort.


The Competitor variant of S&W’s M686 is a beefed-up version of S&W’s basic 6” .357 Mag. Revolver. It’s clearly aimed at competition use (the name is a dead giveaway). The Competitor boasts a chromed hammer and trigger and a weighted barrel, with the weights being easily customized to suit the needs and wants of competition shooters who are fussy about their guns.

As a Performance Center piece, the Competitor was nicely tuned at the factory. The Competitor also boasts racy good looks and a smooth trigger with a slightly mechanical feel at the beginning of its travel. However, for a new revolver that was not broken in, it was nevertheless a fairly smooth operator.

Fine tuning the barrel weights would be a trial and error process, which we did not undertake. Instead, we shot this revolver with all of it weights, and then switched to one or two just to get a feel for the old girl. Adjustments were made with the assist of an included Allen wrench. The differences were subtle, which is a good thing. In any case, recoil was soft and muzzle rise moderate and very manageable with .357 Magnums. With .38 Spls, this revolver was a real softie and a lot of fun to shoot.

Many shooters despise finger grooves, as do I, but the Competitor’s Hogue Synthetic grip fit me like a glove while attenuating recoil and enhancing control. In fact, several people who shot this revolver said the same thing: “I usually don’t like finger grooves, but I liked this.” The 53 oz. Smith & Wesson Model 686 Competitor is a lot of gun in every sense of the word, and for a list price of $1,439, it ought to be.

The Smith & Wesson Model 625 Stands Alone


The handsome M625 is a satin finished (it looks bluish in the photo, but that’s an illusion), all stainless .45ACP revolver – not .45 LC as you might expect — with a sexy tapered underlug and chamfered charge holes that work with or without moon clips. The M625 would be a heck of a companion to any .45 ACP pistol, because at a time when ammo cost has risen and your gun safe is crammed to its limit, who needs more calibers? We had no comparable revolver to compare it to, so we enjoyed the M625 all on its lonesome.

Smith & Wesson claims that the M625 is intended for competitive, recreational and home protection purposes. It should also make a hell of a safe queen.

The MSRP is a bargain at a bit more than one large and includes fancy laminated wood stocks. Speaking of the stocks, they look pretty (you are free to disagree) and they worked well, although one of us would have appreciated some texture or stippling for a more secure grip. During our cold day at the range, slippage was not an issue. On a hot day with hands slick with sweat, who knows?

The 4” barrel revolver weighs 42 oz. The .45 ACP is not known as a caliber with excessive recoil, and the weight of the M625 assured that the old military round would preserve its user-friendly reputation. In fact, some shooters may find that felt recoil from the M625 is softer than a M1911.

We all agreed that the trigger was great. In DA mode, the M625’s trigger was as silky smooth and as agreeably light as a custom job, which was more startling for the fact that no gunsmith (outside of the factory) had ever polished the internals and the gun was not within 500 rounds of being broken-in.

Because it has a reasonably light stroke and a stock that should be acceptable for shooters with average to small hands and people with arthritic fingers, first timers or anyone with hand problems may want to test this revolver in DA mode before deciding that a six-shooter is not for them. It’s also worthwhile noting that one of our group has hands the size of canoe paddles and found that the stocks fit him quite comfortably.

As magnificent as the DA trigger was, SA was better. In fact, in SA mode the trigger was, in a word, remarkable. Maybe too remarkable.

There is a small travel stop built into the rear of the M625’s trigger. With the hammer cocked, we could not accurately gauge the distance between the stop and the frame because we didn’t have an instrument at the range that was small enough. Later on, the “gap” was measured at 3/1000th of an inch. Manually cocking the hammer of the M625 thus transformed a wonderful DA trigger into an SA pushbutton that seemed to work by ESP. While single-action has never been recommended in self-defense situations because of the potential for shooting without meaning to shoot, it’s the nuts for range work.

S&W M625 trigger, hammer cocked

Trouble arose a couple of weeks later when, after manually cocking the revolver, it locked up (fortunately it wasn’t loaded). Now, I can guess what you’re thinking – because I was thinking the same thing. It was the internal lock! The damnable lock!
No, it wasn’t.

The problem may be that the trigger needs a bit more travel to properly trip the sear than it was allowed. Like perhaps 4/1000” or maybe 5/1000”, and it was out of factory spec. Or maybe tolerances are so tight that it needed a break-in to loosen up appropriately. Or maybe some grit caused an interference. It seems to be working fine now, but in the interest of science we’ll find out what caused this malfunction, and then return to shooting the M625 with great glee. It’s utterly fabulous.

None of these five revolvers are inexpensive. They are made of stainless steel. They are powerful, accurate and elegant. They exhibit the kind of craftsmanship that’s hard to find in a factory era where plastic frames and nitriding pass as quality.
Any one of these revolvers would be worth consideration by all experienced revolver shooters, especially those who have a few extra bucks laying around in their savings accounts earning interest at the rate of fifty cents per thousand dollars. There are other excellent revolver choices out there as well, but these five are near the top of the charts. The .357 models, which also accept lighter-recoiling .38 Spl rounds with alacrity, should be considered by anyone, including those new to revolvers. They all look pretty snazzy, too.

Both of the .44 Mag revolvers are icons, and not just because of “Dirty Harry.” In terms of power, accuracy and ease of use, the Colt Anaconda and the Smith & Wesson M629 meet or exceed the standards of most big bore guns out there and the Colt is already an heirloom. In terms of recoil, they both manage .44 Mag loads very well and make .44 Spls feel like twenty-twos. Shooters wishing to embark on big bore revolver shooting could start with the Specials and then work their way up to Magnums, which is a great way to break in.

According to Smith & Wesson, the handsome S&W 686+ PC has one purpose: protection. This snubby is concealable if a bit heavy, and it’s very accurate considering its short barrel. It packs seven rounds of .357 Mag punch on board. Being cut for moon clips, reloads would be fast in self-defense situations once the technique is mastered, which does take practice. Of the five guns, this sporty revolver was the least expensive by a few bucks and may be the most well-rounded.

The 686 Competitor can be fine-tuned to meet competition needs and would be right at home banging steel at the limits of one’s vision, or at greater distances with a scope. Handgun hunters may also want to try this revolver. Could it be used for self-defense? Yes, but this gun was purpose-built for competition and target shooting and it’s never a bad idea to use the right tool for the job. There are better self-defense choices around, and admitting so in no way diminishes the value of this quality piece.

The M625 was in many ways the star of the show. It was the second least expensive revolver in this rodeo. It has a unique, eye-catching look and a great trigger. It proved to be very accurate. And who doesn’t like shooting .45 ACP from a revolver? A word of caution, though. If you currently shoot a .45 ACP pistol, you may not want to try the M625. You may become spoiled and you may not want to go back.

At the end of the day, you don’t have to be Jerry Miculek to love revolvers. You just have to shoot them.

Colt Anaconda
Caliber: .44 Magnum, .44 Special
Capacity: 6 Rounds
Length: 8″ Barrel, Overall Length: 12.99″
Sights: Ramp Front, Adjustable Rear
Action: Single/Double Action
Weight: 59 oz.
Materials: Stainless Steel Frame & Cylinder, Satin Stainless Finish, Neoprene Synthetic Rubber Grips

Smith & Wesson Model 629 Stealth Hunter
Caliber: .44 Magnum, .44 Special
Capacity: 6 Rounds
Length: 7.5″ Barrel, Overall Length: 12.9″
Sights: Drift Adjustable Dovetail Red Ramp Front, Adjustable Black Blade Rear
Action: Single/Double Action
Weight: 56 oz.
Materials: Stainless Steel Frame & Cylinder, Synthetic Grips, Matte Black Finish
MSRP: $1,619

Smith & Wesson Model 686+ PC
Caliber: .357 Magnum; .38 Special +P
Capacity: 7 Rounds
Action: Single/Double Action
Length: 2.5” Barrel, Overall Length: 7.5”
Sights: Red Ramp Front, Adjustable Rear
Materials: Stainless Steel Frame & Cylinder, Glass Bead Finish, Wood Grips
Weight: 34.6 oz.
MSRP: $1,089

Model 686 Competitor Weighted Barrel
Caliber: .357 Magnum, .38 Special +P
Capacity: 6 Rounds
Action: Single/Double Action
Length: 6″ Barrel, Overall Length: 11.5″
Sights: Patridge Dovetail Front, Adjustable Rear
Weight: 53 oz.
Materials: Stainless Steel Frame & Cylinder, Glassbead Finish, Hogue® Synthetic Grip
MSRP: $1,439.00

Smith & Wesson M625
Caliber: .45 ACP
Capacity: 6 Rounds
Length: 4″ Barrel, Overall Length: 10.5″
Sights: Gold Bead Front, S&W Gold Bead Interchangeable, Black Adjustable S&W Adjustable Rear
Action: Single/Double Action
Weight: 42 oz.
Materials: Stainless Steel Frame & Cylinder, Satin Stainless Finish, Altamont Laminated Grip
MSRP: $1,079.00

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    • If you mean the ruger SP101 wiley clapp edition then yeah I’ve got one, its probably my favorite handgun at the time and I have about 15 of them. soft shooting, really nice grips, good sights. I might have to get another one because my wife may claim it as hers.

      • I just put the Wilson Combat springs on my 5″ SP101 Wiley Clapp, all I can say is WOW! best $15 I ever spent on an upgrade.

        • I didn’t even know that kit existed, looks like I have a new project to work on. Thanks for the tip!

    • I got one of the sp101 wiley clapp models a few months back for $600. Has a 2.25″ barrel, beveled cylinder, brass bead front sight, Novak rear, and a reasonably small grip. It’s definitely a bit heavy for its size but it’s hefty enough you could easily use it as a club if necessary. Double action pull is a fairly even weight the whole way through and single action has just a littlest bit of light take-up before a slightly heavier wall that breaks nice and clean. Overall, it’s got a few edges that couldn’t hurt to be smoothed out a bit, but at half the price of a s&w it’s hard to complain. Full power 357’s aren’t bad at all, but after a couple cylinders I can feel it in the inside of my thumb. That could probably be fixed with adjusting my grip a bit, but old habits die hard. Accuracy is pleasantly surprising,windage adjustments are a pain(the dovetails are crazy tight on mine). With my current low end armscor 158gr ammunition, the best I’ve been able to pull off is 3 out of 5 Gatorade bottles at 25 yards. Sorry, I don’t have an average grouping for it yet, but I’m going to start reloading specifically for it soon and see what it can really do. Overall, I’m really happy with it

      • I’ve had really good luck with mine as well, out to 15 yards I can keep all six inside a 2″ bullseye without any real effort. I draws nicely from the holster too, I missed a jackrabbit with it at about 10 paces cause I rushed the shot a little, but that’s on me more than the gun

    • I have a stainless steel GP100 Wiley Clapp. Beautiful gun, shoots great. I dont shoot it that often because its the prettiest gun I own, but it handles full power .357 very easily, I’m looking to get some different grip panels for it. Maybe something in stone, if I can find it.

      • Try Altamont;

        I carry my WC GP100 and dinged the stock panels a bit so I replaced them with the fleur-de-lis in super rosewood, just to keep the stock ones from getting any more dinged up. I like the extra checkering. But then I got a 6″ stainless and put on a set with the smooth silver black panels and I like that too. The stock Hogue grips suck IMHO. Anyway, they’re good grips and the prices are pretty decent.

    • I’ve got the GP100 Wiley Clapp in blue. It’s the gun they’ll have to pry from my cold dead hands.

  1. I have thought about getting a M625 but I don’t have use for it other than a very expensive range gun and safe queen. It is 2″ longer than the equivalent M1911 and while it’s double action trigger is smooth it doesn’t match the short, crisp 1911 trigger or even the trigger on my XD Service. The recoil may feel a little less than a 1911 but i guarantee you that muzzle rise is significantly higher than on an automatic.

    • Not only is the M625 revolver 2 inches longer than a 1911 pistol, the barrel is 2 inches shorter than a 1911 pistol. That shorter barrel, along with the cylinder/barrel gap, really robs you of velocity which is already bordering on too slow with the .45 ACP cartridge.

      If you want a range toy that would also be excellent for home defense, look into a revolver in .357 Magnum. Personally, I want to acquire the Taurus model 608 revolver which has a 6.5 inch ported barrel and an 8 round cylinder. With proper ammunition selection, I cannot imagine too many human attackers that would still be on their feet after just one shot, much less three or four shots. (Plus you would still have four shots left in the cylinder.) And it would be a lot of fun to shoot on the range.

    • I can’t do simple math. The M625 is 3″ longer than the equivalent automatic.

    • A 625 dose NOT recoil less that a 1911. Jerry Miculek is not running full power loads in his. I love mine, but after 100 rounds I am DONE. I can shoot 200 round out of my CW380 without the pounding I get from the 625 after 50. I going to have to brake down and get the X-Frame grips, running Houge smooth finger groves on it now.

    • Actually, I find the muzzle rise lower that my 1911, but it it actually recoils more. I can only put 100 rounds down range and I am done even with Houge rubber grips. Love the gun, insanely accurate, just beats me up. And I will put 200 round out of a CW380 and another out of a CW9 without the pounding I get from 50 rounds of the 625.

      • It may feel like less rise but TTAG published tests a couple of years ago that showed that the 1911 had the smallest muzzle rise of any pistol. Revolver pretty much such.

        • Don’t be a progressive. Nor play one on the internet.

          It’s easy to “publish tests” that show women are physically stronger than men as well, as long as the tests involve East German shotputting “chicks” and crippled midgets. Any revolver with a heavy enough barrel, will exhibit muzzle fall, not rise. Slightly slower muzzle fall than pre ignition perhaps, but fall indeed. While a Browning auto with that heavy a barrel, won’t cycle at all.

      • Negative. These were not TTAG’s guns. The shootaround was not organized by TTAG. And I didn’t choose the guns. The owner did.

  2. Excellent article. I enjoyed it very much. As soon as I turned 21, I began building my collection of auto pistols. I often wondered why anyone would possibly prefer the outdated revolver to one of these high capacity modern marvels of polymer and steel. 25 years later, half of my collection is comprised of revolvers. There is something to be said for the feel of a hammer being thumbed back on a well made revolver that I don’t get dropping the slide on one of my autos. I find myself searching Gunbroker now more for S&W revolvers than for the newest 20+ shot autos. I hope S&W , Ruger, and now Kimber, will keep the tradition of fine revolvers alive and well.

  3. Nearly 60oz. of weight in a .44 mag seems like a lot, until you fire it.

    Then you *love* each and every one of those ounces.

    It truly tames the savage beast.

    (And I’m not referring to Ralph’s breath…)

  4. Great stuff! I love the trigger on my .460 XVR and would love another Smith revolver or two. An Anaconda or Python would be a dream gun. I’ve been envying my buddy’s new 4″ .500 Smith, but really have no “use” for one since I already have a .357, .44, and .460.

    Although truthfully my next purchase will be a Leupold XVR 3-9 or, if I’m lucky, the new Burris XTR II 1-8 for my AR-10.

    Anyways, congrats on enjoying your classy collection.

  5. Don’t need moon clips for the M625? Didn’t know that, could be a game changer, hate those dang clips.

  6. No S&W 4″ Combat Magnum? Or Big Ol’ Hogleg Blackhawk?
    Love all my wheel guns, ya know celebrating diversity dontcha know ?

    • You don’t NEED the moonclips to run 45acp in the 625.. They just speed up the removal of the spent cases as the extractor won’t catch them. 45ACP headspaces on the case mouth in the cylinder.

  7. Dollar per dollar center fire revolvers are more accurate than center fire autos (with rim fire the opposite is true).
    1. My favorite hand gun ever is. S&W 629 Mountain Gun!
    2. The BEST pocket carry gun EVER S&W 360 PD!!
    3. Most accurate 357 I ever shot a 6″ Colt Python! Otherwise 44mags are more accurate.
    4. The Ruger Alasken is a very nice revolver. ( I also like the RedHawk 45LC/45ACP.
    5. The S&W X frame is stupid big!
    6. 22 revolver (even the S&W 617) are not very accurate. A Ruger MK I, II, or III bull barrel will smoke any revolver, and a 22 mag is worthless (9mm cheaper to shoot).

  8. Still scratching my head at the inclusion of the Anaconda (a gun that’s almost impossible for a regular Joe to affordably find) when there’s a zillion Redhawks out there, both old and new production. I get it — it wasn’t an article on the most common guns — but one that’s rarer than a Women’s Studies grad student at a Trump rally seems an odd choice.

    Thanks for not doing an article on the uber macho X frames and .454s. Yes, they push back hard. Yawn.

  9. ‘While single-action has never been recommended in self-defense situations because of the potential for shooting without meaning to shoot, it’s the nuts for range work.’

    Nonsense. The original concept for DA/SA revolvers was that DA was for up close fast shooting and SA was for more accurate shots. Most self defense shootings occur well within DA range, but if you need a longer or exceptionally accurate defensive shot go ahead and thumb back the hammer. Better than pulling your shot and hitting an innocent bystander.

  10. I have a pre lock 625 with a 5″ barrel. I thought the trigger must have had work done but per the article, perhaps not. Best trigger Ive felt except for an old python, yet very close. Most accurate pistol Ive shot, hitting gallon paint cans at 50 yds, easily. I have a couple 1911’s for carry but this is my favorite shooter.


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