Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Guest Post: Competing with the Model 66-8

Today's post is a bit different than normal. A reader named C.S. contacted me and asked if he could submit a post on his new revolver, the Smith & Wesson 66-8. I asked him to take some photos and send me a write up. I am very impressed with his work! I hope everyone enjoys the post. Thanks for reading! - F.C.R.

Competing with the Model 66-8



About four months ago I shelved my M&P 9 competition gun in favor for something a bit more elegant: my father’s Model 66-2. I had observed an ICORE match about two months prior to that decision and I knew it was something I wanted to try. Everyone there had a tricked out, top-of-the-line revolver but rather than jump in the deep end, I thought it prudent to shoot what I already had first. After I bought a holster and speed loaders for the 66-2, I was ready to shoot.

When I first began competing with the dash 2, it was more accurate than I was (and to be honest, it probably still is). However, as I shot more matches with it, problems started mounting up. It had a heavy cant in the barrel which I “fixed” by moving the rear sights all the way to the left. The extraction rod kept backing out and when I examined it, I noticed it was due to the fact that the extractor was slightly cracked. I was getting fed up with the red ramp sight, possibly the worst idea for a front sight ever.

The cost of the solutions to the problems added up: an 8 month waiting period for S&W to look at the cant. Alternatively, for $75 + 2-day shipping it could be sent to an old-school revolver smith. Other problems include: an impossible to find replacement extractor and grinding the front sight off an antique to tap in a new front sight. Even if the gun didn’t have any problems, it’s a handsome gun and I wasn’t ready to fully subject it to the rigors of competition.

With all those problems, I easily talked myself into getting a new competition revolver. Those of us who have shot revolvers competitively know that redheaded step-children get more love and attention than revolver divisions. As such many sports have set up their revolver divisions so that there’s really only one (or maybe two) revolvers that are truly competitive. Trying to shoot a six-shot speedloader fed revolver in USPSA will leave you in the dust against a 627 or 929. In my primary sport, GADPA, a 625 gets major scoring and uses moon clips, which makes a clear winner over a 686. Despite the fact I shoot GADPA most often, I wanted a speedloader fed revolver. There’s just something I find so satisfying about nailing a revolver reload that I just don’t get with moonclips. It’s a definite disadvantage; you don’t get stubborn rounds that refuse to seat or case-under-star failures with moonclips.

By kicking moonclips to the curb, I’m “stuck” shooting GADPA, ICORE Classic, and IDPA. This winnowing of the field left me 3 options: a Ruger GP100, a S&W 686, or a S&W 66. I own both Ruger and S&W revolvers but I eliminated Ruger pretty early in the decision process. I have no logical reason why, but justified that elimination by telling myself that a Ruger’s cylinder release would end up being a disadvantage as I use a weak hand reload. I managed to ignore the fact that Rugers are easy to work on, the sights are easily replaced, well built, and highly praised.

The next decision was 686 vs 66. They have identical grips and internal parts; they only differ in available in factory available barrel lengths and cylinder size. I’ve seen cylinder size argued both ways: “The L-frame cylinder swings out more so reloads are faster” and “The K frame charge holes are closer together so reloads are faster.” I paradoxically believe both those statements so deciding based on cylinder size wasn’t helpful. I wanted a 4 inch barrel so that I could shoot IDPA if I ever decided to; while ICORE and GADPA allow a 6 inch barrel I wanted something a bit more nimble. In the end the decision to go 66 over 686 came down to already having all the K-frame accessories and a bit of loyalty to the 66.

Initial Impressions – First Look.

By driving an hour-and-a-half I was able to pick up a brand new 66-8 for $657.99. While I got a great deal, I can’t help but think revolvers would have a heathier representation in the competitive sports if they cost the same as a plastic gun. My enthusiasm waned a great bit when I noticed that the top strap of the revolver isn’t in line with the frame. The 66-8 has a “two piece” barrel which consists of the barrel proper and a shroud that attaches to the barrel at both ends. So, to be pedantic, I have a slight cant to my shroud. Because of this two-piece construction, S&W must correct any misalignment at the factory. As such I opted to shoot it for a few months rather than delay gratification by sending it back to the factory.
Figure 1 - Misalignment of the top strap. 
There were a few other minor details that I found issue with but what really stood out was the fantastic new lock-up system. The dash 8 changed the lock up system by installing a yoke mounted ball detent instead of locking up via the ejection rod. Some may say that S&W is copying Ruger’s lock-up but the yoke mounted detent is an old school modification that you still see advertised by revolver smiths. The new cylinder release is beefier than the one off my 66-2, making it a bit easier to release. However, this awesome feature comes at a cost: the yoke will not slide off the ejection rod unless the rod is removed.

Figure 2 - Some say you don't need to remove the cylinder when cleaning.
Those people are wrong.

One of the most eye catching aspects of the gun is the bead blast finish. While I do love a shiny stainless finish, the bead blast is equally handsome. The sideplate is fitted with great care: the seam can’t be more than the width of a hair! The barrel markings are sharp and handsome. It’s a shame that this gun’s fate is to be knocked around as a competition gun rather than a safe queen. While not super noticeable but S&W did biff it a bit on the frame rollmark, the first letter seems to be double stamped.

Figure 3 - The excellent finish and near-seamless sideplate
should distract you from that rollmark.

Some people point to the day MIM parts were put into guns as the day everything starting going downhill. I found the people that have that sentiment are the “get off my lawn” type. I’ve never had a MIM part break because it was MIM but I will concede that the MIM parts are a bit rough looking, especially the seam running along the hammer.

Figure 4 - While it might outlast you, that MIM hammer
does leave an unsightly seam.

Regardless of metal composition, the black accents along with the black grips really make this gun pop. However, whoever decided to make the side plate screws different head sizes has some explaining to do.

Initial Impressions – Range Trip.

Before taking the gun to the range down the street, I tried to swap out the mainspring as the double action trigger pull exceeded 12 pounds (my trigger gauge can’t measure past that). However, the strain screw was not long enough to provide any real tension on the reduced power Wolff spring I had laying around. I measured the single action at 4 lb 15.1 oz (n=10, Max= 5 lb 2.2 oz, Min= 4 lb 9.1 oz). I threw a few hundred wadcutters and a half box of .357 magnums in my range bag and was out the door.
Figure 5 - Shot a bit high but that's an easy fix.
Despite the handwritten note, the larger group was shot in double action.

For my first six rounds, I made it easy on myself: single action at 7 yards. Those first six rounds could all fit in a quarter and were able to melt away any concern I had over the top strap misalignment. I put the target back out to 7 yards and shot double action. I wasn’t as impressed with my performance in double action: the group size had doubled relative to the one I shot in single action. While I had a good amount of .38 special left, I loaded the next cylinder with some CCI .357 magnums. I was shocked after my first shot, it was the mildest magnum recoil I’ve ever experienced. You could shoot 357 all day and the only place you’d feel it was in your wallet.

I took the target out to 25 yards and was able to maintain “minute-of-soup-can-lid” accuracy in both single and double action. I did have a hard time with my sight picture on account of the red ramp so the failures in accuracy were on me and not the gun.

By the end of the range session the heavy double action was getting to me, when I had to use two fingers to pull the trigger I figured I should call it a day.

Time for an upgrade… Or three.

I typically enjoy doing all my gunsmithing work myself but I wanted a top-of-the-line action job done which is not something currently in my wheelhouse. Rather than ship it out to a revolver smith, I sent it over to Andy Ferries at Georgia Firing Line. Not only is he an accomplished gunsmith, he also shoots revolver competitively. I wanted to have an Apex hammer installed and an action job on the parts that the hammer wouldn’t replace. Andy handed me his 625 to try out his trigger, it was perfect and I told him that’s exactly what I wanted. While an action job was needed, the most important thing was replacing the red ramp with a Dawson Precision fiber optic front sight.

Figure 6 - I'd argue that sights are the most personal modification on a gun.
It's also the most important.

While waiting for the parts to come in and be installed, I contacted Bill from Master-Tac holsters to get a new holster. Bill made the holster for my dash 2; however, the dash 8 has a barrel 0.25” longer so I couldn’t use my old holster.

Figure 7 - Black carbon fiber with "battleship gray" kydex matches the finish on the gun.
The belt is from Double Alpha (in silver).

About a month went by before my gun was ready, I was able to pick it up the Friday before the year’s first ICORE match. Thankfully Bill had my holster ready about a week earlier so I was ready to go. Andy added an Apex competition firing pin, a reduced power Wolff mainspring, and a custom fabricated strain screw to get the revolver where I wanted it. I measured the trigger pull at 7 lb 10.9 oz (n=10, Max= 8 lb 2.9 oz, Min= 7 lb 2.0 oz). I added a TKC extended cylinder release, an essential upgrade when using a weak hand reload.

All these modifications do come at a cost. By reducing the power of the mainspring the hammer doesn’t hit the primers as hard which limits me to Federal ammunition/primers to get 100% reliability. I’ve also lost the use of single action which might put me at a disadvantage when trying to get long distance shots. Despite those limitations the gun was exactly where I wanted it.

First Matches

I’ve had terrible luck this year with outdoor matches. The first three matches of the year were either rainy or cancelled due to rain. The ICORE match I had waited months to shoot was under the same threat of rain as my other matches. Thankfully the weather settled on being overcast and unseasonably cold with no rain.

I would love to give a detailed breakdown of the stages as typically done on the blog but I was too busy having a ball to write down any notes or take any pictures. The stages were fun, the people were excellent, and I was in the groove shooting. I did have one minor gun setback when the cylinder froze up as something on the yoke was preventing the cylinder from freely spinning. I popped the cylinder out, gave it a few hard spins until the “clot” had worked itself loose, reloaded, and engaged the final 3 targets. I took the gun to the safe area and with some oil that was loaned to me, I got the cylinder gliding. I assume the holdup was due to some liberal greasing either from me or the factory, either way I’m glad the malfunction didn’t occur during the classifier.

I managed to place 8th out of 15th and 2nd in classic division. Considering this was the first time competing with the gun, I was pretty happy.

Figure 8 - Shooting in a raincoat is no fun. I really prefer my Hawaiian shirt.

Continuing my trend of shooting in the rain, I shot the GADPA outdoor match last weekend. I was very happy with my performance. I managed to avoid all no shoots and I was able to get all the movers. While the action job is excellent, I really am enjoying the new fiber optic front sight. It’s a game changer for me. While revolver is not the most popular division of GADPA, I did get some competition this month. I am proud to say I earned my 1st place this month rather than receiving it by default.


I am incredibly happy with my new revolver and all the work that has gone into it. I’m still peeved about the misaligned barrel; however, I’m just having too much fun to send it over to Smith and Wesson to get it properly aligned. Now that the dash 8 has proven itself to be an excellent competition gun, I get to return the dash 2 to a position of honor in the safe.


Please leave feedback and comments below. If you have any suggestions for future posts or would like to share your experience on the current topic please post below!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

First USPSA Match with the Smith & Wesson 929

Match Day!

This is not my first USPSA match with a revolver. Last November, I shot my three inch Smith & Wesson Model 66 equipped with a Cmore RTS2 red dot and six Safariland speed Open Division...against race ready 2011s. It went about as well as you would imagine, but I enjoyed every minute! That post remains my most popular to date. On to today's post.

I visited the range twice with this rig before the match and did a bit of draw, dry-fire, and reloading practice at home to prepare. For those curious about the revolver I used at this match, I actually have two posts detailing the upgrades and the racing gear I selected for the Smith & Wesson 929. Give them a quick read If you'd like. There were six stages to shoot after we finished setting up. Here is my breakdown of the match!

Stage One

T1 - T3 are not in the shot. Sorry about that. 

This was the second to last stage that my squad shot at this match. There were fourteen paper targets and two poppers: thirty two shots minimum. This was a loaded table start. Targets T1 - T4 were engaged from the seated position. I loaded on the move and stopped before I passed the leading edge of T5. I chose to shoot S1 and S2 before engaging T5, T6, and T7.

After a quick step to the right while reloading, I addressed T8 to my left and moved toward T9 behind the barrel. With four rounds left in the revolver, I pivoted and shot T10 and T11. Another side step while reloading and I engaged the finally three targets T12 through T14. I think my plan for this stage went well. I always try to reload on the move, especially if I am going to need a full moon clip for the next array. I finished in 35.19 seconds (27 As, 2 Cs, and 1 D) with a hit factor of 4.0352.

Stage Two

Don't break the 180!

This was the final stage of my match. Being a lefty is usually challenging, but occasionally it pays off. Several of the right handed shooters came very close to being disqualified for breaking the 180. I avoided this danger because the muzzle is always a bit further in front of me when moving toward my strong side. I reloaded after engaging each array. Three reloads on the clock for such a short stage isn't ideal, but with an eight shot capacity, they had to happen. I finished in 15.45 seconds (18 As) with a hit factor of 5.8252.

Stage Three

There was a bit of movement to this stage. From the start position, I engaged T1 through T3 and reloaded as I left the box. T4 and T5 were addressed as they appeared. T6 and T7 were shot while advancing to the safety line. I reached the line and reloaded to engage T8, S1, S2, T9 and T10 before a flat-footed reload. I shot T11 on the move to the port. From there, I engaged T12 through T14. No make ups. This was a fun stage. I finished in 33.20 seconds (23 As, 1 B, and 6 Cs) with a hit factor of 4.0964. 

Stage Four

This was my favorite stage.

From what I understand, this stage is a classifier know as "On The Upper Pad II." This is pretty straight forward. The steel poppers must be engaged withing the box for safety and T3 through T5 must be shot from the port. Some shooters engaged the S1 and S2, left the box, and took T1 and T2 wile advancing. 

The squad actually had a discussion regarding which target array to engage rights. The question at hand was, "Which side do you shoot first: the side you draw from or the opposite?" I've always engaged the targets on my holster side, in theory because there is less time to the target, but many shooters draw then reach across their bodies and work their way back to the holster side.

At the buzzer, I shot T1 and S1, transitioned to the right to take S2 and T2 from the box. This way, the revolver was on the right side of my body for my reload. It made sense in my head. I reloaded on the move to the port and shot T3, T4, and T5 through the port as required. This stage went great! I was particularly pleased that the reload was completed before I reached the port. I finished in 11.84 seconds (11 As and 1 C) with a hit factor of 4.8986.

Stage Five

My squad started at this stage. For me, the first stage is always a little rough. A slow draw, a missed shot, a bobbled reload. Well, except for the slow draw, this stage went fine. There were four pieces of steel. S3 and S4 both activated swingers. I decided to work from the center position, then move to the right position, and finish at the left position. At the buzzer, I engaged S1, followed by T1 through T3. With my final shot I knocked down S2. I reloaded and hit S3 starting the swinger, before engaging T4 and S4 to start the other swinger.

At the right position, I took T5 and T6 before a flat-footed reload. With a full moon clip in the revolver, I took two shots at T7 when it paused momentarily. I probably should have reloaded, but with six rounds in the cylinder, I figured I could finish the stage. I ran back across the stage and engaged T8 through T10. I think this was the right decision. I finished in 39.79 seconds (18 As, 3 Cs, and 1 D) with a hit factor of 2.5132.

Stage Six

Our second stage of the match was an unloaded start. These are always a little challenging for me because of my left handed loading technique. I need both hands to open the revolver, so I can't immediately reach for my moon clip. This adds time After I retrieved the revolver, I struggled with the cylinder latch before finally loading and engaging T1 through T4. 

I side stepped toward Position Two while reloading. I fumbled with the moon clip, failing to align the chambers on the cylinder. By the time I managed  to get loaded, I felt pressed for time and shot a pair of Cs and a D. I finished in 16.66 seconds (12 As, 3 Cs, and 1 D) with a hit factor of 4.2017. Another shooter realized the rules did not specifically state that shooters could not move toward Position Two while shooting. I think he won that stage.


My results.

This was a great first match with the S&W 929! My overall ranking was 23rd out of 28 shooters. Not great, but I still had a great time. Unfortunately, I was the only shooter in the Revolver Division. Hopefully there will be more revolver shooters at future matches. I've been chatting with people here and there an many of them own revolvers. Hopefully more wheel guns will start popping up at my local matches!

Quick side note: There were a few folks shooting Production, Carry Optics, and Open, but pretty much everyone was shooting Limited. This seems to be the most popular division in my area. The real surprise was the number of Pistol Caliber Carbine shooters. That division has taken off at this club! I even convinced a friend to come shoot the match with me and he placed 13th with his new Kel Tec Sub 2000. Maybe I'll work on a build down the road.

As always, if you have any suggestions for future posts or would like to share your experience on the current topic please post below!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

My Stepfather's Favorite: the Smith & Wesson K-22 Masterpiece

His Story

His revolver resting in his worn leather holster.

A little less than a year ago, I lost someone very close to me. Even as I reached adulthood, he was known simply as "Mr. Ken." He was an active participant in my life for twenty years and I consider him to be my stepfather. He was an expert story teller and could recount his experiences with incredible detail. Mr. Ken grew up across the Midwest because his father was a pilot following the Second World War. As child in the 1950's, he fancied himself a cowboy. I've seen pictures of him in full regalia, boots and all. As a boy in Wyoming, he hunted for fossils. One of my favorite stories involved him shooting the snakes he encountered with a .22 revolver, while riding his horse named Trigger. I'd like to believe that this Smith & Wesson is that revolver, as the serial number dates to 1957.

By his late teens, Mr. Ken began to travel. He spent time in Belgium before returning to the United States to earn his bachelor's degree. He continued his education at the London School of Economics and ended up working for a pharmaceutical company in South Korea during the late 1970's. Following his time abroad, he invested in an upscale restaurant, worked on a private railroad that traversed the Sierra Madres, and earned his Dive Master SCUBA certification. Mr. Ken was a frequent diver, particularly off the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. By the late 90's, New Orleans became his home. At the Audubon Aquarium, he was a diver and made presentations to the visitors from the tanks. It was here where he met my mother at an event. From the point forward, Mr. Ken was a part of my life. When he passed, I requested to keep the K22. Once the estate is settled, it will be transferred to me in Texas.

His Revolver

This revolver was actually with me in Texas when I got the news. This was before I started writing, but I took some great pictures of it at the range! You can see the wear marks on the barrel, cylinder, and a small chip on the stocks. Mr. Ken was hard on all of his tools. Prior to my interest in revolvers, I only fired this revolver one time on a vacation to the farm. As a ten year old who had only fired BB guns up to this point, this was an awesome opportunity! I remember shooting at an empty can. I can't remember if I even hit it.

This particular revolver is a Smith & Wesson K22 Masterpiece, which was manufactured right before the introduction of model numbers. To my knowledge, this revolver was designed and produced with similar handling characteristics of the K38 Masterpiece chambered in .38 Special. It is relatively heavy for a .22 handgun, but the six inch barrel aids in accuracy. I have a hard time seeing all black sights, but even I can keep them in the ten ring at 10 yards. 

The craftsmanship of older S&W revolvers is impressive. The bluing is beautiful and the single action trigger is better than any of my "modern" Smith and Wesson revolvers. The double action is a bit heavy, but I believe most shooters fired this revolver in single action. This wheel gun is a joy to shoot, even if it only visits the range a couple times each year.

Later versions of this revolver are known as the Model 17. Smith & Wesson has even introduced stainless steel target gun, the 617, with a ten shot cylinder and bull barrel. If you have been following Revolvers Only you may remember my post on the Smith & Wesson 617. I regularly compete with the 617 in Steel Challenge.


Final Thoughts

I think it is important to note that Mr. Ken was never really a "gun guy." He owned a handful of firearms he thought were necessary for specific tasks, but really wasn't all that interested in firearms. He traveled while he was young and became a parent in his mid 40's. Although quiet at home, he was often the life of the party when there was a special occasion to attend. While he occasionally worked in different industries after he joined our family, his most important role was my stepfather. All in all, the man lived an incredible life.

Mr. Ken was a very positive influence on me. He encouraged me to read as much as I can about everything that interests me. Whenever I was dealing with a problem in life, he always offered a story detailing how he encountered a similar circumstance. Each tale contained a hidden lesson that helped me overcome my current predicament. He was an wonderful man and I miss him very much. I hope to keep this revolver in good condition and teach any of my children how to shoot a real gun.

As always, if you have any suggestions for future posts or would like to share your experience on the current topic please post below!