Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The one that started it all: Smith & Wesson 686-1

A fine view of a fine revolver.


Smith & Wesson introduced the 686 in 1980. Built on the slightly larger "L" frame, this model was designed to handle a steady diet of .357 Magnum rounds when the forcing cones on medium "K" frames cracked under extended use. At nearly 40 ounces with a four inch barrel, these characteristics provide enough mass to dampen recoil while propelling bullets to the listed velocities of commercially produced ammunition. Despite the weight, large frame Smith & Wesson revolvers balance exceedingly well in the hand. L frames are very ergonomic wheel guns, particularly with a proper set of stocks.


The firing pin can be seen attached to the hammer. Thankfully,
the internal key lock was a feature.
This specific model, the 686-1, was produced in 1986. This actually makes the revolver slightly older than me, but I digress. In 1987 a recall was issued to correct a cylinder binding issue. Those that were updated have an "M" stamped next to the serial number. This model was made prior to the frame mounted firing pins, MIM hammers and triggers, and the dreaded internal frame lock. While I have not had any issue with the frame locks on newer Smiths, that little hole does hurt the aesthetics of the revolver.


My modifications have been limited. I chose to change the parts to a black finish to make the revolver two-tone (which looks neat). The thumbpiece was replaced from the "old style" to the "new style" factory release. The sideplate screws were also changed to the Power Custom Pre-1988 allen head screws. The last upgrade was to switch from Hogue Monogrips to VZ Grips 320 square butt also in black. The grips really finish out the two tone look. Last but not least, the colored electrical tape on the speedloaders helps me quickly identify which gun they fit.

Master-Tac makes great holsters. Ready Tactical carriers
are easy to position on your belt and offer great retention.
When this revolver came into my possession it was clearly not stock. The previous owner(s) upgraded several aspects of this classic to improve the stock features. The front sight has been replaced with an green fiber optic front sight manufactured by SDM. The rear sight is stock and has a simple white "U" shape around the rear notch. I prefer solid black rear sights, but I haven't changed this one as of yet. The front face of the trigger was also rounded and polished which is incredibly comfortable. The trigger breaks at about 8 and a half pounds. The internals are stock.
This is a great duty sized firearm but carrying all day, especially inside the waistband, might be a bit too much for the average person. The ergonomics coupled with the ability to accept .38 Special and .357 Magnum cartridges make this a quality firearm for home defense or competition. Competing is exceedingly fun while improving your skill. The small amount of stress causes failures and reveals exactly what must be improved upon before the next match.

There are several leagues with divisions specifically catering to the six shot revolver. Both the International Defensive Pistol Association and the International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts have supported the revolver despite the increased popularity of semi automatics in today's competitive shooting. For more information regarding on competition, please visit the IDPA and ICORE websites at and respectively.

Shooting Experience

Shooting the 686 is a wonderful experience. The heft of the revolver soaks up much of the recoil even with hotter .357 Magnum loads. Standard pressure .38 Special loads are light and even .38 Special +P loading are comfortable. This wheel gun will happily eat pretty much anything you attempt to feed it with no issues.

Testing accuracy with a handgun is largely based on the shooter's ability. I've only been shooting revolvers with regularity for about two years now but I consider myself, an average shooter. I attempt the Hardwired Tactical Shooting Revolver Super Test with all full size guns. The drill is straightforward as follows:
  • 6 rounds in 12 seconds from 15 yards.
  • 6 rounds in 8 seconds from 10 yards.
  • 6 rounds in 4 seconds from 5 yards.

Mostly in the black.

Scoring the NRA B8 target is easy; total up your points excluding misses and shots after the timer. A passing score is a 162/180. I barely squeaked by with a 164/180 this time, but considering I shot a 130 the when I was taught this drill in Oct 2016, I feel I am improving...if only slightly.

In addition to this pile at 10 yard line, there are two smaller piles;
one at the 15 yard line line and one at the 25 yard bench.


Overall, the Smith & Wesson 686-1 is a fantastic revolver. If you could only own ONE revolver this is definitely the one to own. If you don't plan to compete in a sport that limits your cylinder to six rounds, a seven shot version known as the 686+ is available in several barrel lengths. This is the revolver that made me fall in love with wheel guns so I will likely never sell it. If you get the chance to shoot one I can almost guarantee you will love it as well.

As always, please comment below if you have an suggestions for future posts or would like to share your experience on the current topic.  

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