Smith & Wesson Model 686 [Gun Review]

Smith & Wesson 686
Smith & Wesson 686

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

I know, how could this happen?! Revolvers are like apple pie – classic and timeless.  Revolvers won the west, revolvers forced the question: “Do I feel lucky?” (Well, do ya?)

Maybe you’re like me and don’t enjoy revolvers, maybe you love them and are looking for your next one – either way, you should know more about the S&W 686.

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 WAS Smith & Wesson’s original L frame which is what they call their “medium-large” pistols and 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, .357 Magnum isn’t tame and the 686 has gotta hold back a pretty hefty explosion so it needs some bulk to keep from exploding itself.  Also, the weight is good for recoil as well.  Without all that weight, the only thing to absorb the recoil is your wrist.

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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 a long of a pull as you would expect from a double action revolver.  To its credit, the trigger is 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.  Wait, 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.

Wait, no…I dislike revolvers, remember?

Tell you what, let me load up some .357 Magnum.  That’ll be sure to put me back into my “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, smooth gun!


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 of breakdown 5/5

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.

Maintenance 5/5

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.

Reliability 5/5

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.

Safety 2/5

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 person 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 earn it a 2 out of 5.  Safety rules, friends, they’re there for a reason.

Poor Technique 3/5

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 (except for, 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 2/5

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.  Still, feels a bit sparse to me.  Could have at least given me a paper target or something.  2 out of 5.

Accessories and Upgrades 5/5

The 686 has been around for a while.  There’s no shortage of 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.

Already got one?  Here’s our 686 Trigger Job walk-through.

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 makes 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.

18 Leave a Reply

  • Victor

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

    1 month ago
  • Guncritic

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

    8 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.

    9 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.

    10 months 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 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.

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Thanks for the insight, Rob!

      2 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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