Smith & Wesson Model 686 Gun Review

Smith & Wesson 686
Smith & Wesson 686

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel the need to make a confession: I’ve never really liked revolvers.

Now, I recognize that there are people that love them and swear by them but I’m not one of them.  Suffice to say, it comes down to the fact that I just don’t like the way they feel.

While there hasn’t been many, every revolver I’ve shot to this day was clunky and downright painful to shoot.  Give me a nice, semi-automatic pistol of any caliber any day and I’m happy.

I’m also working on becoming an NRA certified instructor.  One of the requirements is that I have to demonstrate ability with a revolver.


The Smith & Wesson 686

Well, time to get a hold of a revolver I guess.  Fortunately, a close friend of the family had one he was planning on selling and he let me try it out first.

The revolver in question is the Smith & Wesson Model 686.

This is a double action revolver chambered in .357 Magnum which means it can also shoot the cheaper and lighter shooting .38 Special as well.

The gun is based off of Smith & Wesson’s L frame which is what they call their “medium-large” pistols.  It holds 6 rounds but there are also 7 round options and it also has adjustable rear sights.

First off, this is a heavy gun.

It’s one of my gripes about revolvers.  This gun, which isn’t much bigger than my Glock 19, weighs in at just under 3 pounds.  The weight is necessary.  It’s gotta hold back a pretty hefty explosion so it needs some bulk to keep from exploding itself.  It’s also good for recoil as well.  Without all that weight, the only thing to absorb the recoil is your wrist.

Smith & Wesson 686
Smith & Wesson 686

So I got the gun and started with some dry fire practice.  I started in single action by pulling the hammer back and pulled the trigger…

Oh my…that’s a sexy trigger.

In single action mode the trigger is…delicious.  Just a slight amount of pressure and it goes.

In double action mode, the pull is around 5 pounds and isn’t nearly as long of a pull as you would expect from a double action revolver.  It’s just as smooth and crisp as could be.  (Edit: it was likely modified since factory triggers are more in the 10 lb area).

Then it was off to the range with a box of .38 Special and a box of .357 Magnum.  The sweet, sexy trigger aside, memories of previous times shooting revolvers were still fresh in my mind.  I remembered that sting from the J Frame .38 Specials I had fired in the past.  Call me a wimp all you like, I have an acute allergy to pain of any sorts.

S&W 686
S&W 686

So I load up the .38 Special ammo and pull the hammer back.  Then I take aim and…oh my.

That 3 pound heft did its work well.

There was less recoil than my pocket 9mm pistol.  That can’t be right.  It must have been a bad cartridge.  Let me try that again.

Hammer back, aim…oh my.  Maybe I bought standard .38 special rounds and not..nope…these are +P rounds.  This thing shoots so dang sweet. dislike revolvers, remember?

Tell you what, let me load up some .357 Magnum.  That’ll be sure to put me back into the “no revolvers” frame of mind.  Load the bigger rounds, hammer back, take aim…oh my.  I’d say it’s comparable to a .45 caliber round now.

I’ve gotta shoot some more of these!  I’ve gotta have more of this trigger, this sweet sweet gun!


You know how there’s two people you could be crushing on.  There’s the one that’s got a great and wealthy future ahead of them, they’re attractive and smart and would get along great with your parents.

Then there’s the one that has been in and out of prison, has a ton of tattoos, has no manners and borrows money from you constantly.  Everything in your head and everyone around you tells you to go after the first one but for some reason that second person is the one you ask out on a date.

I finally understand why people like revolvers.

I love this gun.

I’m looking forward to going back to the range just so I can shoot this thing again. In fact, on the next range day, this might be the only gun I bring with me.

Granted, that’s mostly because 9mm is still scarce in my area and, well, I had a bit of a mishap when I loaded over 1000 rounds of 9mm (I’m in the process of pulling and re-reloading all 1000+ of those rounds but that’s another article).

I think I owe some guns an apology.  Still, I’ll be curious to see how this one holds up to the tests.  Time to put on my objectivity hat.

Ease to breakdown

It’s a revolver.  There isn’t really a “breakdown”.  You push a button and flip the cylinder out.  If you have to really take it apart, it’s probably because a spring snapped or you’re wanting to upgrade the trigger or something. 5 out of 5 here.

5 out of 5 Dunce Hats


As I said, swing the cylinder out and wipe it down.  There’s not much to the gun and cleaning is a breeze.  Like I said in the first category, anything more than simple cleaning is usually done by a gunsmith.  Another 5 out of 5.

5 out of 5 Dunce Hats


Get used to this phrase: It’s a revolver.  You pull the trigger, it goes bang.  If something goes wrong, 99% of the time it’s probably the ammo.  That 1%, if it happens, is going to be a catastrophic failure of something internal.  Once again, a 5 out of 5.

5 out of 5 Dunce Hats


Let me tell you a little story that I didn’t mention in the intro.

Remember how I said the single action mode on this gun has a light trigger?

It’s REALLY light.  I’m talking absurdly light…and a short pull to boot.

I had the gun up and ready, I was aiming at the target and getting ready to shoot.  At the last moment, I decided to make a slight adjustment to my grip.  In the process of adjusting my grip, my finger barely tapped the trigger and the gun fired.

Let me clarify: my finger was extended to the side like it was supposed to be.  While I adjusted, the proximal phalanx of my index finger ever so slightly brushed it from the side and that was enough to fire the gun.  That has never happened to me before but, then again, I’ve never shot a gun with a trigger this light before either.

A quick google search reveals I’m not the first people to have this experience.

Granted, if you’re carrying this gun, it’s going to be in double action mode.  Still, that was a real eye opener.  Side note: the accidental shot went dead center of the target.  Either way, the light trigger and complete lack of safety features on this gun earns it a 2 out of 5.  Safety rules, friends, they’re there for a reason.


Poor Technique

While the double action trigger does take some practice to get accurate with, you can’t limp wrist this gun.  It will always go exactly where you are pointing it.  It will always load the next round.  It will also take a huge chunk out of your finger…or take your finger clean off if you hold it wrong.

There’s a gap between the cylinder and the barrel of this gun and on every revolver (excepting, of course, the 1895 Nagant Revolver and others like it).

When the gun is fired, gasses escape from that tiny gap with incredible force.

On a .38 Special, it’s enough to burn you and/or cause a small wound (as my Father found out a while ago on a J Frame revolver).  On a .357 Magnum, it’s enough to take a nice chunk out.  On a .44 Magnum and higher?  Kiss that thumb goodbye.

Yes it will always go bang but you can lose a finger in the process. 3 out of 5.  Check your grip.


Starter Kit

You get the revolver and Smith & Wesson’s patented blue plastic box.  Granted, I can’t think of much else that should come with a revolver.  It’s not like you need extra magazines and stuff.  It still feels a bit sparse to me. 2 out of 5



The 686 has been around for a while.  There’s no shortage on holsters, grips, upgrades, trigger kits, modifications and more.  There’s not much you can’t do to this gun.  For all the potential toys out there, this gun gets a solid 5 out of 5 in this category for sure.

5 out of 5 Dunce Hats

Final Word


I will always prefer a semi automatic pistol (check out our Best Beginner Gun article).

Still, this sweet gun has earned its place in my gun safe.  This is the revolver that changed my mind about revolvers.

The S&W 686 make a pretty good first gun too, as long as you keep in mind your safety rules and your hand placement.  They’ve been around long enough that you could probably pick up a used one at just about every gun store there is.  If you’re on the fence, I say go for it.  I have thoroughly enjoyed this gun.

4 out of 5



Posted @ 10/8/2014 7:52 PM by Tim

Tim's avatar

perfect review and spot one. enuff said…

Posted @ 10/8/2014 7:53 PM by Tim

Tim's avatar

spot on…

Posted @ 10/16/2014 1:58 PM by chris

chris's avatar

You gave it 2/5 for safety because it doesn’t have an external safety? It’s a revolver. You aren’t going to have it in single action unless you’re shooting on a range.

Posted @ 12/6/2014 8:24 PM by zenworm

zenworm's avatar

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.


  1. 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.

  2. 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. 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?

  4. 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!

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