Smith & Wesson 686 Plus -Made to suit the demands of the most serious firearms enthusiast, the Smith & Wesson® 686 Plus .357 Mag Revolver is built to withstand heavy and continuous magnum use. Built around Smith & Wesson’s L-Frame design, the 686 Plus provides the strength of a stainless steel frame and cylinder in an intermediate sized and weighted revolver that fires both .357 Mag and .38 S&W Special +P cartridges. Synthetic finger grooved grip. Red ramp front sight and adjustable white outline rear sight. Satin stainless finish. Weight: 36.8 oz.(unloaded). Capacity: 7 rounds.
Smith & Wesson 686 Shootout: Old vs. New, Short Barrel vs. Long
I was recently in one of my favorite Montana gun shops, perusing the used rifle rack and minding my own. It was a Saturday afternoon, and the gun department was fairly busy. As I browsed, I kept noticing one middle-aged gentlemen who was trying to ask questions of the salesmen behind the counter. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
One tries not to eavesdrop, but two things quickly became clear: 1) the middle-aged gentlemen knew absolutely nothing about firearms, and 2) the sales staff was losing interest in helping him. That’s not to say that the middle aged man was being obnoxious, nor that the sales staff was being rude.
The man was well-dressed, and was genuinely trying to elicit information on a subject he knew nothing about. However, the staff was very busy, and while they were trying to be polite, they were just too busy with other customers to give him the education he wanted. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
So, I did something I rarely do: I walked up, introduced myself and asked him if I could answer any questions for him. He politely thanked me, accepted my offer, and introduced himself as “Spencer.”
Spencer was interested in purchasing a home-defense handgun, as he was quite concerned about the state of affairs in the world today. However, Spencer confirmed to me that he knew absolutely nothing about firearms.
He was very polite, clean-cut, well-dressed, and was clearly an educated, successful man. He had brought with him a blank spiral notebook in which he studiously jotted down notes as I walked him through various handgun designs and calibers. When I finally asked him what he thought he wanted to purchase, he sheepishly shrugged, pointed to the GLOCKs, and said, “I guess one of those. That’s what everyone keeps telling me.”
I concurred with him that GLOCKs are a fine product, but then asked him if he knew how a GLOCK –or any semiautomatic handgun- functioned. He shook his head “no,” and assured me that once purchased, he intended to take a firearms class. I concurred again – a class was an excellent idea.
I then gave him a contemplative look and he asked me what I would recommend for him. Without hesitation, I walked him over to the revolver counter and asked the salesman to remove a Smith & Wesson 686 .357 Magnum revolver. Spencer gasped when I said “.357 Magnum.” However, I explained to him that this revolver could also fire the lower power .38 Special cartridge, which is ballistically very similar to the 9mms he had been considering.
I explained how this revolver is made of solid steel and when fired with .38 Specials, it wouldn’t recoil as much as a semi-auto would (or jam on the occasion of a limp-wrist shot from a new shooter). I then explained to him the simplicity, safety and reliability of a quality double action revolver. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
No, it doesn’t have the ammunition capacity of a semi-auto, but it could be left loaded for years and be picked up at a moment’s notice and fired. In the event of a misfire or dud primer, you just pull the trigger again. To make the revolver completely safe, simply opened up the cylinder.
We shook hands and Spencer left the store that day without purchasing anything, but I had obviously given him more to think about and he went home to research revolvers.
If you spend any time on internet firearm forums, there are inevitably a dozen, “if you could have only one gun…” threads or discussions going on. While I find these “only one gun” discussions, A) horrifying, because why would I possibly only have one gun, and B) pointless because we don’t live in a country with such restrictions (at least not yet), they do set a guy to thinking.
If, God forbid, I was limited to only one firearm, what would it be? A .30-06 bolt action rifle? A pump action 12 gauge shotgun? A good .22 rifle? I could make the case for all of those for a one-gun battery. But after a couple of days sitting in the tractor pondering the question, I always come back to the same conclusion: if I could own only one gun, it would be a Smith & Wesson model 686 .357 magnum revolver with a 4 inch barrel.
Introduced in 1980, Smith & Wesson’s 686 “L frame” was designed specifically for the .357 Magnum cartridge. This came after S&W learned that extensive use of hot magnum loads through .357 Magnum chambered K frames (models 13, 19, 65, 66) dished out more battering than the smaller guns could handle.
Beefier than the K frame but not as massive as the N frame, the L frame models 686 (stainless steel, adjustable sights), 681 (stainless steel, fixed sights), 586 (blued finish, adjustable sights) and 581 (blued finish, fixed sights) could take the steady pounding of heavy .357 magnums and keep on ticking.
Also, for the first time in its production history, S&W installed full underlugged barrels on the L frames. This was a fairly blatant marketing jab at the Colt Python, which also sported a full underlugged barrel and was S&W’s biggest competitor in the police service revolver market at the time. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
Full disclosure: the 686 was my first big handgun (as in, not a .22). On my 18th birthday, my dad presented me with a new-in-the-box 686 that had been sitting in the local hardware store’s display case for over 15 years. It was a 686 “no dash,” indicating it was an early model with the hammer-mounted firing pin, which predated any engineering changes.
It also had never been back to the S&W factory for the “M” stamp modification, which is a replacement firing pin bushing in the frame to prevent primer flow with high pressure loads. My 686 sported a 8 3/8″ inch barrel with a partridge front sight, square butt frame, wide serrated target trigger, and original S&W target wood grips, aka “cokes.” This picture is a pretty close representation:
I carried and shot my 686 in this form for a couple of years on the ranch, shooting pests and targets with bulk .38 special rounds until I was, without bragging, a pretty decent long-range shot with it.
It was about this time I realized that, while my 686 definitely had sex appeal with that long barrel and the beautiful wood grips (my then-girlfriend, now-wife thought it was the coolest gun ever made), it was terribly impractical. The huge coke bottle target grips, while pretty, had never fit my short-fingered hands. On top of that, I had put a good scratch in one of the grips while crawling over a barbed wire fence, and that clinched it: the pretty wood grips had to be replaced with something tougher that fit my hand better. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
A Hogue rubber grip was purchased and installed, and voila, the new grips fit my hand. My 686 stayed in this form for a few more years, until one year while packing into mountain sheep – and grizzly bear – backcountry on horseback for a week of scouting, I had the bright idea to carry the 686 in an old Jackass shoulder holster rig I had found in a pawnshop.
While the rig definitely looked cool in the bathroom mirror with my long-barreled 686 strapped into it a la Dirty Harry, a week on horseback and climbing mountains spotting for sheep taught me that packing a 8 3/8” barreled howitzer in a shoulder holster was a miserable experience and not for me (that was the first and last shoulder holster I’ve ever purchased). I realized I needed a shorter barreled revolver.
I didn’t have the money to simply go out and purchase another 686. At this time of my life, any decent S&W revolver was selling for $400 and up (ah, the good ol’ days), I had just gotten married, and my gun fund was non-existent.
The only way I was getting another revolver was by selling or trading the one I had. And I really didn’t want to part with my 686, even for another 686. It was my first “big gun,” and was a gift from my father. I was a crack shot with it, and had more than once made outstanding long-range shots that were witnessed by others. So the 686 stayed as it was. And then I started reading Elmer Keith. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
In one of his books, Elmer talked about having one of his Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolvers re-barreled to the more-handy 4-inch length. His work was done at the Smith & Wesson factory, but this got me to thinking: why couldn’t I re-barrel my revolver myself?
Needless to say, the old girl balanced and carried much better than it did with the 8 3/8” tube. The shoulder holster was tossed in the leather drawer, replaced by a Bianchi strong side pancake holster, and I actually carried the gun as my primary CCW gun for a couple years.
As my gun fund grew and other handguns were purchased, the 686 was carried less and less, especially when I started getting into USPSA and later 3-Gun competition. And then, a few years ago, a funny thing happened: my wife and I attended a Friends of the NRA banquet in Helena, Montana. On a lark, I purchased a raffle ticket. Sure enough, my name was called and I suddenly became the owner of a brand new, 4-inch model 686.
This was a new-manufactured model, and was actually a 686-6 (indicating it was S&W’s sixth engineering change to the model). It differed from my old 686 in that the new one had a round butt grip frame, a frame-mounted firing pin, a redesigned extractor star, MIM parts, and, unfortunately, the dreaded Clinton lock. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
Home with me and into the safe, next to the old 686 it went. Both went largely unfired for a couple of years.
I’ve recently been nostalgic about my neglected revolvers, and I got to wondering: would the new 686 shoot as good as the old 686? And then an even more interesting question: how would the old 686 stack up if I re-installed that original 8 3/8 inch barrel?
My testing protocol: the old 4” and the new 4” 686s were fired by me, single–action, from a seated position off of a rest, at a paper target at 25 yards. Five different loads were used to fire five six-shot groups: three .357 Magnum hand loads, one .38 Special hand load and one .38 Special factory load. Then, I uninstalled the 4” barrel from my old 686 and reinstalled the original 8 3/8” barrel. Once done, I repeated the test firings with the same 5 loads through the now-long barreled 686. In effect, I tested 3 different S&W 686s, to see if date of manufacture and/or barrel length had any effect on accuracy.
Old 4” vs New 4”
This test did not go the way I thought it would. Everybody knows that old Smith & Wesson revolvers shoot better than new Smith & Wesson revolvers, right? Wrong. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
However, they both shot everything else pretty well, and both guns had definite favorites. The old 686 4” really liked my .357 Magnum reload consisting of a Hornady 158 grain hollow point and 13 grains of Alliant 2400.
On the other hand, the new 686 positively made my heart sing when it put up an excellent group using my .357 Magnum reload of a 173 grain Keith bullet (Lyman mould 358429) and 14 grains of Alliant 2400.
Time for a change
First a disclaimer: re-barreling a Smith & Wesson revolver is not for the novice gunsmith, nor the faint of heart. If you are impatient, or don’t know how to operate tools, or don’t have the correct tools, or aren’t incredibly anal retentive, DON’T TRY IT. Hire a gunsmith. That’s what they get paid for. Seriously, if you mess up, you can destroy a perfectly good revolver. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
With that said, it’s possible to re-barrel your own S&W revolver at home, if you have some mechanical inclination and are patient and meticulous. I won’t take the time to go through the process here, as it would probably have enough content for its own article. Maybe some other time.
The point is, I took my time, properly uninstalled the 4-inch barrel from my old 686 and replaced it with the original 8 3/8 inch barrel. When I got done, this is what I had:
With the 8 3/8-inch tube reinstalled, I was tickled when my old girl put up four pretty fair groups. Notice that the point of impact for all groups was higher than with the 4” barreled guns. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
The long 686 didn’t like my 158 grain LSWC .38 Special hand load any better than the other two guns had; however everything else shot pretty well. The lone factory offering, the Fiocchi 158 grain FMJ .38 Special, posted a very good 1 ½” group, with two shots in the same hole:
Once again, my 173 grain Keith .357 Magnum load performed excellently, putting up a six shot group just north of 1 ½”.
Another impressive group came from the 158 grain Speer Gold Dot .357 Magnum hand load, which was posting a sub-one inch group until a slight flyer opened the group to 1 ½”:
But the real winner was the Hornady 158 grain jacketed hollow point .357 Magnum hand load, which posted this legit 1” group:
So what did I learn? From 30,000 feet, Smith & Wesson made a damn fine revolver in 1980, and they still make a damn fine revolver now. The older, long barreled 686 shot the best groups, but I suspect that has more to do with 1) its longer sight radius, and 2) its excellent partridge-style target front sight.
Both of these assets let me shoot the long 686 more accurately. I honestly can’t say that either the new or old 4-inch 686s aren’t capable of the same accuracy. In fact both shot excellently. They’re simply shorter-barreled and sport red-ramped combat front sights, which I don’t find as precise for target shooting. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
In short, the Smith & Wesson 686 is one of the most versatile, utilitarian firearms ever made. This revolver can do just about anything: personal protection with proper 125 or 158 grain JHPs; mountain/woods duty loaded with heavy Buffalo Bore factory ammo or hand loads consisting of 173 grain cast Keith bullets in front of a good dose of 2400; or plinking/target shooting with (relatively) inexpensive .38 special fodder. Heck, I’ll even load my first couple chambers with CCI shot shells and carry it to dispatch the inevitable summer rattlesnakes on our place.
Over the years, several friends and acquaintances who learned I’m a “gun guy” asked me for advice when they want to buy themselves a handgun. To a person, they want to buy the blackest, coolest-looking semi-auto in the gun shop case.
My advice for new handgun shooters is always the same: start with a .22, and shoot it. Then shoot it some more, and then shoot it some more. Then, buy a quality .357 revolver, like the S&W 686.
The 686 is simple to operate, simple to load, easy to shoot, and most importantly for a new shooter, safe. There are no external safeties to fuss with, just a long, smooth double action trigger pull, or an excellent crisp single action trigger pull.
Flop the cylinder open, and the firearm is completely safe for everyone to see. Even for the seasoned shooter, the craftsmanship and accuracy offered by the S&W 686 can be refreshing. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
[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?
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.
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 & Wesson 686 Plus
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.
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).
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. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
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.
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. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
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.
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. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
This specific 686+ has seen a lot use over the years and eaten every kind of ammo imaginable.
.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
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.
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.
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.
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. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Smith & Wesson 686 is a fantastic revolver with utter reliability, comfortable ergonomics, and beautiful aesthetics. Its accuracy and customization are par for the course. But for a personal protection gun it’s perfect and comes in different barrel lengths and even a Plus model with 7 rounds of .38 Special or .357 Magnum.
So 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.
.357 Magnum is a fantastic cartridge, too. Everyone should own at least one gun chambered in .357 Magnum. Just saying. Smith & Wesson 686 Plus