[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?

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

Smith & Wesson Model 686+729at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writingVIEW DETAILSCompare prices (2 found)

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

Remington HTP .357 Magnum 110 Grain SJHP25at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writingVIEW DETAILS

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

American Eagle .38 Spl 130 Grain FMJ18.75at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writingVIEW DETAILS

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.BONUS: Shoot better. Download our exclusive shooting targets for FREE ($47 value)

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


Subscribe to Pew Pew Tactical’s sales and deals email.SUBSCRIBE

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.

CrossBreed S&W 686 Holster60at CrossBreed

Prices accurate at time of writingVIEW DETAILS

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.

Safariland J-R4C COMP II Speedloader11at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writingVIEW DETAILS


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.https://www.youtube.com/embed/35fz5j9LiX0?feature=oembed

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.New to guns? Check out our online Beginner Handgun Course that teaches all the important stuff you need to know.

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


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.

Smith & Wesson 686700at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writingVIEW DETAILSCompare prices (2 found)

.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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Open chat