[Review] Smith & Wesson Model 686+

Revolvers don’t get enough love.

We live in an age of All Things Tactical from our poly pistols to our not-a-45-ACP 1911s.

Then there’s the rampant wearing of 5.11 cargo pants and ‘Merica shirts. So, where has all the revolver love gone?

S&W 686 Side View
The Smith and Wesson Model 686P (the “P” stands for “Plus” and refers to the seventh round capacity).

It’s fallen by the wayside thanks to the greater capacity and simplicity of semi-autos and I think that’s a shame.

If you want to be a well-rounded shooter you need to learn to run a revolver. 

Meet your “My First Revolver”, revolver: the Smith and Wesson Model 686.

Editor's Choice
729
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Table of Contents

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Into The Weeds

The 686 can trace its lineage back to 1981, making it not quite as elderly as other revolvers out there. It’s basically the stainless version of 1980’s blued Model 586.

Smith and Wesson designed it to be a reliable, accurate gun that gets used, not a safe queen or casual pocket carry pistol. The 686 is meant to be used. 

S&W 686 barrel view
The Smith and Wesson Model 686P is chambered in .357 Magnum, a cartridge we have Elmer Keith to thank for designing.

Details for the detail lovers.

The 686 was created based on the older K-frame .357 Magnums that were, at the time, favored by a ton of law enforcement (I’m speaking of the Model 19 and Model 66).

S&W 19 Classic
S&W 19 Classic

This model is built on an L frame, a size similar to the K only with a larger cylinder and a bit more heft in general.

There have been multiple iterations of the 686 – you’re going to hear them referred to as variants and dashes – featuring different barrel lengths and cylinder capacities. 

Best Beginner Handguns
Best Beginner Handguns (Yup, the 686+ is on the list and on the top)

My baby is the 686+, a variant with a seven-round capacity and 4.125-inch barrel chambered in .357 Magnum. Sure, you could also run .38 Special through this revolver, but why skimp on oomph?

The 686P has a slim enough grip to allow a good hold on the gun, magnum rounds or not, and is rather hefty. It weighs in at 39.0 ounces, empty, a big chunk compared to the 21.16-ounce empty weight of my Gen 4 Glock 19.

Glock G19 Broken Down

Some of that weight comes from a heavier top strap and forcing cone, important features to mitigate felt recoil and increase accuracy.

Specs include an overall length of 9.56-inches, satin finish, and factory front blade and adjustable rear sights. The gun ships with black rubber grips with finger grooves.

As I mentioned before it’s chambered in .357 Magnum so you can also fire .38 Special rounds through it – .38 Special +P, if you like – and is an L-frame, stainless steel, seven-shot revolver. 

Here is our editor Eric shooting his 686+ with 38 Specials.

Revolvers aren’t like semi-autos. There is no external safety, no magazine release, and no slide lock on this DA/SA bad boy, just the hammer and cylinder release, both checkered for smoother operation.

S&W 686 controls and hammer
Both the cylinder release and the hammer are textured for easier use. It might sound like a minor detail but it really does make a difference.

Granted, although revolvers appear simpler on the outside they are a bit more complex internally; if your Glock goes down odds are good you can repair it yourself but if your revolver fails it frequently becomes a case for a qualified gunsmith.

Then again, you haven’t lived until you’ve sorted out the internals of a revolver. Come on, I can’t be the only gun geek here.

Pew Pew

This specific 686+ has seen a lot use over the years and eaten every kind of ammo imaginable.

S&W 686 and .357 Ammo
.357 Magnum is a cool cartridge practically perfect for handgun hunting and there are lots of options on the market. Be warned, though, felt recoil is pretty significant.

Barnes VOR-TX .357 Magnum 140 grain XPB HPs are a great option but if you want a bit less felt recoil there’s always Hornady .38 Special 110 grain FTX. Don’t do yourself the disservice of using only one or the other.

Best .357 Mag Home/Self-Defense Ammo
25
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Make use of the gun’s .357 Magnum and .38 Special capabilities and learn to be fast and accurate with both as well. Oh, and learn to run that trigger DA and SA, not either/or.

Best .38 Spl Training Ammo
18.75
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Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The factory rubber grips fit my hands well; some people immediately ditch the grips but they happen to appeal to me. Even the finger grooves fit my hands properly which is not something I can say for the finger grooves on, say, Glocks.

The beefy design of the top strap does make the gun slightly heavier toward the muzzle, meaning it is not as carefully balanced as some of the semi-autos you might be used to using.

There’s one good thing about that weight, though: recoil control.

gun recoiling into shooters face
This is uncomfortable recoil

If you run the 686P with .357 Magnum, be prepared for noticeable felt recoil. It’ll take you some trigger time to learn to fire the gun smoothly, especially for follow up shots.

Here is Eric again with full load .357 Magnums…

That doesn’t mean it isn’t accurate; this revolver is precise and performs beautifully offhand and from the bench.

Under 15 yards it is possible to maintain a just-barely-single-hole, five-shot group firing the first shot DA and all other shots SA – that requires me to take my sweet time.

S&W 686 right side

Stretching out to 25 yards, shooting from the bench, the average five-shot group measures around four inches.

Double-action for all shots fired expands my groups at 15 yards to an average of three inches with some exceeding four inches. Again, that’s slow-fire, no rush.

S&W 686 ADS
The gun’s factory sights are actually good; the sights are highly visible and facilitate rapid re-acquisition of targets (or as rapid as you can get with .357 Magnum recoil).

Using .38 Special does take some of the recoil-driven yikes out of the 686P. This is a gun that loves its Inceptor .38 Special 77 grain ARX; shooting offhand at ten yards the gun delivered a five-shot group of 1.3 inches.

Some brands of ammo don’t seem to agree with it especially when you start using +P. For example, Federal Personal Defense .38 Special HST +P use resulted in five-shot groups at ten yards averaging six inches. 

So, what happens if you end up rapid-firing the Smith and Wesson 686P? My first disclaimer is to remind you that practice is king. If you don’t put the work in you will not be able to run the gun as well; if you put the work in your revolver skills will be on point.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Draw
Admit it, everyone wants revolver skills like an old west gunslinger!

Firing the first shot DA and all other shots SA I can keep most shots in the A zone of an IPSC target but I would not call it pretty. That’s with .38 Special. Switch it up to .357 Magnum and I can just keep shots in the C zone. Practice, guys. We all need it.

The trigger of this gun is worth a mention. Double-action the pull weight is around ten pounds; single-action it drops to 4.3 pounds. The Performance Center did nice work on this trigger.

S&W 686 stripped
Like clockwork.

The pull is smooth and consistent when shooting double-action; there is no stacking or grit. Best of all is the crisp, clean break. This is a good factory trigger. Reset is longer than you may be used to from semi-autos, depending on your gun, but it remains workable.

Kudos to Smith and Wesson for producing a nice factory trigger.

If you intend to carry the 686P, be prepared for some differences from carrying a semi-auto.

First of all, is the bulk; the 686P cylinder is wider than a Glock’s frame and the curves of a revolver can be harder to conceal, too. This gun is a bit large for concealed carry.

60
at CrossBreed

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

It isn’t that you couldn’t do it just that it isn’t ideal. For open carry or handgun hunting hogs it works well. You’ll find your drawstroke is markedly altered from drawing a lighter, smaller pistol, so get some practice.

Everything makes it different from the weight to the shape to the overall size. It might feel awkward at first but eventually, you’ll get the hang of it.

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at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Failures

Yes, revolvers can fail. Anyone who claims otherwise either doesn’t know what they’re talking about or…doesn’t know what they’re talking out. In fact, I had a failure with the 686P.

I haven’t tracked round count as well as I perhaps should have but I would guess the gun was perhaps 1500 rounds in when it failed.

It was loaded, the trigger was partially engaged, and the cylinder wouldn’t move. And when I say it wouldn’t move, I mean it would not budge at all. In the end I pulled an old business card out of my range bag to release the cylinder.

S&W 686 seven shot
This particular 686 variation holds seven rounds of .357 Magnum and I admit I do like having that extra round.

The ejector rod was backing out – not exactly a unique problem – and it was a fixable issue. However, there was no warning; the revolver simply stopped functioning.

Now imagine yourself experiencing this kind of failure while using a revolver to defend your life. You won’t be able to jimmy the cylinder open with a business card and tighten the ejector rod, you’ll be without a gun.

gun destruction

This makes the case for backup guns but should also serve as a warning about revolvers as EDCs. A revolver can make a good EDC but you must be familiar with the reality of failures.

We aren’t talking a tap-rack-bang scenario, we’re talking you’re out of the fight.

Reality Of Revolvers

It’s a good idea to be competent with all platforms. Whether you like revolvers or not you should be able to use one. The Smith and Wesson 686P is a preferred revolver of mine because it’s well-made, accurate, and comfortable.

Yes, .357 Magnum makes it a bit less comfortable and is not my favorite cartridge ever to run through a handgun with a four-inch barrel, but the gun’s bulk really does negate felt recoil.

That said, I would suggest good .38 Special loads if you’re going to carry this gun. In addition, learn to use either speedloaders or speed strips. I prefer speedloaders, personally.

Kat with speed loaders
If you’re going to run revolvers, learn to use speedloaders and speed strips.

This is a nicely done revolver and a solid choice for your first – or tenth – revolver. Hey, you can’t do Wheel Gun Wednesday if you don’t own a revolver. Spend some hands-on time with the 686P.

It’ll win you over!

By The Numbers

Reliability: 4/5

The 686P is a reliable gun but I’m docking a point for the ejector rod issue. Although it was an easy enough fix it would be a catastrophic failure in a self-defense scenario. Revolvers do tend to fail less often than semi-autos but they also fail in big ways. 

Ergonomics: 4/5

Ergonomically the Smith and Wesson 686P is well-done. If you don’t like the rubber grips it ships with, swap them out for something you do like. I like the angle of the grip on this revolver (there are revolvers out there with grip angles I despise). The gun is made for a solid grip and the accuracy that comes with it. 

.357 mag ammo is pretty
For cool photographic purposes only. Don’t candy cane your ammo loads, boys and girls.

A word on balance. I wish this was a more balanced gun. Having the added weight all in the front makes firing for extended periods more difficult and has a negative effect on accuracy.

Accuracy: 3/5

This one might seem harsh but I’d prefer my carry guns be a little more precise. It isn’t that the 686P isn’t accurate – it definitely is – it just doesn’t produce groups quite as tiny as I’d like from a potential carry gun.

Do I trust it to hunt hogs? Yes.

Could it be used as an EDC? Of course, it could, but you’d better put in the practice. Remember, accuracy degrades when adrenaline floods your system.

Customization: 3/5

There isn’t a lot of room for customizing revolvers. Sure, you could have a gunsmithing genius like Bobby Tyler work it over – and he would do a stellar job – but it’ll cost you.

If you’re doing it yourself, grips are the most obvious part you can change. We also have a guide to Tuning Revolvers. Otherwise, go to a professional.

S&W 686 stripped
Fully field-stripping your revolver isn’t necessary more than once or twice a year and does require a working knowledge of your gun’s parts and functions.

Value: 4/5

This is a decent value. You’ll probably find it around $700 at your local gun store. If you want a quality revolver for handgun hunting this one is a logical choice; if you want one for EDC this gun might be a bit oversized.

Looking for a good revolver for the range? This is your gun. 

Overall: 4/5

Parting Shots

I’ll go ahead and say it. I love this gun. Although my go-to for concealed carry leans toward semi-autos I do believe revolvers have their uses. Revolvers can be carried – but for heaven’s sake, carry a speedloader – or used for hunting. Or range time. It’s up to you.

700
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

.357 Magnum is a fantastic cartridge, too. Everyone should own at least one gun chambered in .357 Magnum. Just saying. 

What .357 Magnum revolver do you have? You DO have one, right? Let us know in the comments! For some more awesome six-shooter goodness, take a look at the Best Beginner Revolvers!

36 Leave a Reply

  • EdK

    "Gave" my 3" barrel 686+ to one of my sons. Unfortunately he lives in NY state, so it's still in my gun safe in Arkansas. It was the second handgun I purchased (after a S&W 638). I agree that it's too much to carry. Maybe my son will move someday and he can finally take possession.

    2 days ago
  • RoverSig

    "Fully field-stripping your revolver isn’t necessary more than once or twice a year and does require a working knowledge of your gun’s parts and functions." There is no need to field-strip a revolver twice a year. It is not necessary and creates the potential for damaging the revolver or losing parts -- the average user shouldn't go there. However, it is not a bad idea to remove the crane periodically (once every couple of years, depending on usage) and clean out the channel in which the ejector rod sits -- it can become clogged with residue (a mix of gun oil and powder) and give the gun "cylinder cramps." In telling people about revolvers, I think it is also worth mentioning timing - so folks know how to detect problems with roll-up (e.g., detecting a worn hand) and line-up of the cylinder with the forcing cone (which if not right can result in the revolver spitting lead). These are problems that may affect older or used revolvers and emerge slowly -- and highlight one of the real benefits of a revolver -- that is, things can go wrong, but the revolver often gives the user advanced warning that it needs a little attention. This is also true of the problem with the ejector rod backing out -- this is something that the user should detect long before it becomes a problem. It is the user's job to inspect the revolver periodically to make sure everything is present and working, just like the user of a semi-auto should check his or her magazines and magazine catch from time to time. The user should of course scan the revolver to make sure the grips are on tightly, the sights are present and affixed correctly, the cylinder rolls properly, the cylinder release is working right, the forcing cone is not cracked, etc., as a routine part of carrying and using the gun. How in the heck can someone shoot any weapon without checking it out first? A lose ejector rod should never catch anyone by surprise. Any discussion of revolvers should include mention of lead bullets -- which are very versatile and are used a lot more often in revolvers than in semi-autos. Lead bullets tend to be very accurate (since they generally obdurate well, certainly better than jacketed bullets do) and range from the 148 grain HBWCs (very mild) to the 158 or even the "hard cast" 185 grain SWC (the Kieth bullet is outstanding). These give the .357 Magnum revolver a huge range in capability, from range work to hunting large animals. The article seems to reflect an interest in the more lightweight, faster rounds -- which have a role -- but didn't mention the classic 158 grain load that works so well. It also misses mentioning this -- that the .357 revolver firing the well-known 125 grain load at 1500 fps is one of the most effective man-stopper bullets of all time and exceeds the effectiveness of just about any semi-auto (pick a caliber) out there. In short, I'd rate the article a 4 for enthusiasm and a 2 for knowledge of the revolver.

    2 days ago
    • Mike

      Brilliant!

      1 second ago
    • Gary

      Well said!!

      1 day ago
  • Philip Conrad

    I own three .357’s. A Smith 686 ( no, not a 686+) with a scope and an 8 3/4 inch barrel. A Smith Model 19 snubbie, and a Colt Python 6” bright stainless. The 686 with its 8 3/4 barrel obviously is quite nose heavy. Not liking its factory grips either, I massaged a pair on N frame wooden handles to fit. Improved things quite a bit... and, the gun is very accurate. I would say it’s a lot more accurate than the Python but I’d be leading you on. In the 29 years since I bought the Python I’ve never fired it. It’s just too pretty to get dirty. The Smiths... well, they’re like a 4WD pickup. They were kind of made to get dirty.

    3 days ago
  • Ken

    Any factory smith & wesson should out shoot the shooter for accuracy. I’ve shot and taught revolvers since about the time autos were getting popular in law enforcement. They are machines and can fail, usually due to poor maintenance just like most machines. A person well experienced in just autos may not know what to look for in taking care of a revolver. It boils down to, “know the condition of your weapon”. If you get a revolver and want to use it for defense. Seek out some teaching on them and you will have a very trouble free pistolero. Learning to Run the trigger double action only will help you stay out of trouble in court if you defend yourself with a revolver. Study the situation and have a reason for why you would switch to a revolver ‘cause they are a different animal.

    3 days ago
  • Scooter

    Its a little unreasonable to take a way a point for reliability because you forgot to tighten the ejector rod assembly. Would you consider your car unreliable if a wheel fell off because you forgot to tighten the wheel nuts? The chances of a 686 S&W revolver ever failing are minuscule as long as you assemble it correctly and keep it clean.

    3 days ago
  • Marcus Aurelius Tarkus

    My 686+ was my first modern-cartridge revolver purchase (I had two given to me in the past). It followed a series of replica cap-and-ball revolvers. I gave up that hobby some years ago. As I got older, the work of cleaning and maintaining them--along with loading them--eventually took too much fun out of shooting them. I actually made my purchase because of Hillary Clinton. After acquiring a string of semi-autos over the years, I saw the 2016 election approaching with a lot of dark clouds gathering over 2A. Having toyed for years with the idea of adding a hefty .357 to my collection, I ordered it on election eve 2016. I opted for the 686+, due to the extra-round capacity. I went with a three-inch barrel so that I could carry it concealed. "This gun is a bit large for concealed carry"? Not for this bigger-than-average bear. A Remora IWB holster works well for me all day long. I haven't had a revolver itch to scratch since my Hillarious purchase of three years ago. I suppose I could thank her that I finally made it. But I won't.

    3 days ago
  • Blake Fillingim

    COLT MODEL: TROOPER MARK III CALIBER: 357 MAG 4" NICKEL WOOD GRIPS It’s so bad ass!

    4 days ago
  • Alpheus Farmer

    S&W model 19, 6" barrel. Love my revolvers.

    4 days ago
  • H. Hays

    Charter Arms - Mag Pug ... Loud, Shock and Aw, 7-15 yards, 4"-6" bench, 8"-10" two hands. Concealed Carry Weapon. Relieves my arthritis symptoms for a few days. 125 gr JHP, fast powders work best in mine.

    4 days ago
  • Frank

    Wheelguns will always have a place in my home. Ruger .357 LCR for deep concealed, King Cobra for OWB and heavy range work with .38+P. Dan Wesson 15-2 PistolPak for history and coolness, and 1974 Colt Python just because. We shoot them all regularly. My wife also loves the .357 kick.

    4 days ago
  • J Harl

    My 357 is Ruger Security Six...stainless, walnut grips...really beautiful. My buddy likes his Colt Cobra. We trade off at the range and shoot his reloads. Have fired 686 and it is very smooth and accurate. Hope to get one soon

    4 days ago
    • J Harl

      Correction: Colt Phyton...my bad

      4 days ago
  • Chip B

    I have a Manurhin MR73 - and I would not trade it for anything! I just recently completed Front Sight's Defensive Pistol class with it, and qualified as a Distinguished Graduate. Great shooting revolver, fantastic trigger, and very reliable. The only malfunction I have had is a failure to fire - cartridge did not detonate when the primer was struck.

    4 days ago
  • Kevin B.

    I have a Taurus model 66 7 shot 4 inch .357 and it's a very nice firearm. Now I'll wait for the Taurus haters......

    4 days ago
  • Daniel Todd Sampsel

    S&W 19 and 66, with a Ruger SP101 thrown into the mix....

    4 days ago
  • Tony Perez

    nice honest, fact-based editorial. Thank you.

    1 month ago
  • Victor

    Love the 686. Absolutely have a competent gunsmith modify the trigger. Close to 1000 safe rounds fired through my brothers modified 686.

    3 months ago
  • Guncritic

    Hey! This is a great review. It shows the positive and the negative part of the Smith & Wesson Model 686.

    10 months ago
  • Dale Coy

    I just bought a new 686 plus deluxe, I took it to the range yesterday and I love it. It has a perfect SA trigger pull and the DA is stiff, but not onerous. This is a great revolver.

    11 months ago
  • Keith

    Suggest you shouldn't knock off points for safety on an obviously altered gun. Whoever lightened the trigger pull to a ridiculous level is the unsafe culprit.

    1 year ago
  • Dave

    Been a Glock guy until a friend let me fire off his "6 shooter" Next thing ya know, I got a S&W 686P 4" 357/38. This baby is sweet. Still love my Glocks, but the S&W will be along for the ride to the range. :-)

    1 year ago
  • Doc Holliday 1950

    I finally got my first S&W in Dec. it was the 686 plus 357 in a 3" barrel.. Put 75 rounds of 38 sp+P 125 gr. Golden Sabers & 75 rounds of 357 mag ammo 125gr. Hornady CD's. Started out at 15 feet then 25 feet. The DA was similar too my Ruger GP100 4" but the SA was by far the best that I ever felt. There were no modifications done. This was straight out of the box. IMHO, this is the best revolver that I have ever fired next to my first Colt 1967 Python 4". My accuracy was/is outstanding with the 686. Yes it's heavy but there is no pain shattering recoil. If you have a problem with the weight, get yourself a rubber ball & squeeze it 5-10 minutes/day. No more weight problem. i'm waiting now for my custom made Lobo modified pan cake lefty holster so I can carry it.

    1 year ago
  • VeloRandy

    I bought a 686-6 last October, and its a great shooting revolver with a very nice fit & finish. Shooting single action will make you feel like a marksman, double action will challenge your shooting skills for sure.

    1 year ago
  • Steve

    Well now you have to try the ruger gp100 357 . It will eat any thing you put in it Mine is SS 6'' 3.5 pound sa I have both semi autos and wheel guns. More semis but I love my wheel guns.

    2 years ago
  • Duane

    You need to get a professional trigger job. Plain and simple Your gun is dangerous. In 1960 my Dad bought a Ruger single six. The original owner, I think his first and last name was bubba, did a trigger job. He shot his foot and threw the gun over a rocky ridge putting a bend in the trigger guard. He later found it and sold it to Dad for his ER bill. Dad would never get it fixed. I let a friend shoot it in HS. He turned towards me with the hammer back and his finger on the trigger. I spun sideways and jumped back at the same time. The gun went off and fired thru where I had been standing. Yes I covered safety with him. We never spoke again. One could fire the gun by touching the side of the trigger, using ounces of pressure. Sound familiar? You mentioned trigger job. I have a 686, I love it. I inherited Dad's Ruger.. I sent it back for the free trigger upgrade. I've taught many to shoot firearms by starting them on the Ruger. Centerfire was my M 66. I ask that you sit down and think about how unsafe the 686 has become. One needs to do the right thing to protect ones self, friends and family. Liability is the financial concern. In court a lawyer would own you if the unsafe trigger came to light. Hope you think about it. The 686 with a factory trigger is still one great gun.

    2 years ago
  • Randy

    I bought a 686 with 6" barrel on my 21st birthday. Other than a centerfire rifle it was my only other gun at the time, so I shot it a lot!!! A buddy had a modified competition 686 and we'd shoot nearly every weekend. It was no problem rolling old gallon paint cans around at 100 yards. At more "defensive-type" distances ragged, one-hole groups were the norm. I just loaded up a couple boxes of hot 357 loads, gotta get to the range!

    2 years ago
  • Kenneth Rasmussen

    A tip: Go try a good old 4" .38 Special S&W model 10 with the heavy barrel! I have both a 686 and a 10, and I must say that I think the 10 is even more fun than the 686. Don't be fooled by the boring look of the 10. It's a blast to shoot!

    2 years ago
    • Dan Click

      Your safty rating is based on a modified trigger job. Absolute B.S.

      2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Kenneth, will try to get my hands on a 10 soon!

      2 years ago
  • Mike

    You noted that the trigger had been adjusted for 5 lbs rather than the standard 10 lb. Do you think this may be why you had that safety mishap on single action?

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Mike, it might have been...it was a modified gun.

      2 years ago
  • Bald Rob

    I own and have owned Walthers, Glocks and Berrettas. All reliable and are logical choices. Still, I have switched to mostly revolvers. I have always found them equally as reliable. The L frame 686 and the K frame class revolvers make great shooters for beginners. A perfect home defense weapon for the gun reluctant spouse. A compact, light and simple to use carry gun as well. A car/truck gun. With practice a duo or trio of L frame, K Frame, J Frame compliment each other. Learn accuracy and trigger control with the painless big brothers and watch the accuracy of the J frame will improve greatly.

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Thanks for the insight, Rob!

      3 years ago
  • zenworm

    Sorry, but the 686 does NOT have a 5 pound double action trigger from the factory (it's more like 10-11, it's HEAVY). Your 686 had been modified. Please update the article so people reading aren't getting incorrect information.

    4 years ago
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