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

  


Introduction


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.

Conclusion


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.

-C.S.

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!

1 comment:

  1. I also have a 66-8 and it's barrel is misaligned much like yours. I was a little disappointed at first but the gun is so much fun to shoot I didn't bother with sending it back. I'd like to do the Apex hammer as well but I'm still on the hunt for some grippy grips without finger grooves

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