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Smith & Wesson Model 686 ‘Plus’: A Beefed-Up .357 Magnum Revolver

The original S&W M686 debuted in 1981. Though not quite as mega-tough as the Ruger GP-100, the M686 is arguably the strongest .357 Mag that S&W makes.

Smith and Wesson 686 Image Credit - Creative Commons
Smith and Wesson 686 Image Credit - Creative Commons

The Smith & Wesson Model 686 double-action (DA) revolver, a .357 Magnum Revolver, was included in a “Cannon Or Gun? Meet The Top 5 .357 Magnum Handguns On Planet Earth.”

The list also included the Smith & Wesson Model 586 double-action revolver, as they are essentially the same gun, with the former having a blued carbon steel finish that is lower in cost and appeals more to traditionalists for sheer aesthetic beauty.

The latter has a stainless steel finish that is pricier but appeals more to pragmatists for its more maintenance-friendly resistance to rust, corrosion, and holster wear. In my opinion, the gun is plenty pretty in its own right. 

I mentioned in the roundup that I’d fired an M586 in 1991 – as a sidebar note, it was at the gone-but-not-forgotten Santa Anita Firing Range used in the movie “Lethal Weapon,” in Monrovia, Calif. – and all these years later I have a fond memory of the smooth DA trigger and the accuracy. Typing those words gave me a hankering to refresh my shooting skills with this particular series, hence my range trip this morning. This time I fired the 686, more specifically the 686 Plus, with a 7-round cylinder as opposed to full-sized revolvers’ traditional “sixgun” capacity.

Smith & Wesson Model 586/686 History & Specifications

The original S&W M686 debuted in 1981. Though not quite as mega-tough as the Ruger GP-100, the M686 is arguably the strongest .357 Mag that S&W makes. These two guns belong to S&W’s L-frame series, which the company officially calls a “Medium” frame but really the models are more of a “medium-large.” To use a warship analogy, if the N-frame guns are the battleships of the Smith & Wesson revolver line, then the L-frames are the heavy cruisers – or perhaps battlecruisers in a stretch – and the K-frames are the light cruisers. As the manufacturer’s official info page states, “Smith & Wesson L-Frame revolvers are built to suit the demands of the most serious firearms enthusiast. Available in six and seven shot cylinders, the L-Frame has a strong, durable frame and barrel built for continuous Magnum usage. As police officers and hunters will attest, this firearm is made to withstand heavy use.”  

A major reason for this extra strength is the beefed-up full-length barrel underlug, which is reminiscent of the GP-100 and the Colt’s King Cobra and legendary Python

Also in common with the GP-100 and the King Cobra, the 686 Plus has rubber grips that may look “ugly” to some but do much to tamp down the recoil of full-powered Magnum loads, whilst the 586 – aka the “Distinguished Combat Magnum” – has the wood grips that look prettier and more traditional but don’t absorb recoil worth a damn, instead stinging the shooter’s hand with the entirety of the recoil force.

The so-called “Plus” version of the M686 was introduced in 1996. Not to get ahead of myself, but I ended up firing a 4.13-inch barreled specimen, whose other specifications include an overall length of 9.56 inches, a height of 6 inches, and a width of 1.55 inches, with a weight of 39.2 ounces.

Personal Shooting Impressions

So, this time – for the sake of a more convenient commute than Silver Eagle Group (SEG) in Ashburn, Virginia – it was off to Cindy’s Hot Shots in Glen Burnie, Maryland to rent their 686 Plus. Ammo selected was 50 rounds each of PMC Bronze 158-grain .357 Magnum jacketed softpoints (JSPs) and 132-grain full metal jacket (FMJ) rounds. 

Cindy’s lanes max out at the 25-yard distance unlike the 50-yarders at SEG, so I adjusted my course of fire accordingly. From a standing Classic Weaver Stance with both loadings:

—7 yards, 25 head shots, all DA mode

—15 yards, 15 torso shots, all DA mode

—25 yards, 10 torso shots, all single-action (SA) mode

I started off with the full-house “Maggie” loads rather than the “kinder, gentler” Specials, as starting off with the latter caliber tends to leave extra fouling in the cylinder due to longer travel distance from the chamber to the forcing cone on account of the 0.1” shorter cartridge length.

Now, here’s where it got really interesting: with the Magnums, I still experienced the annoying tendency to pull my shots leftward at all distances as I’d noticed the previous weekend with the Springfield Hellcat 9mm, Glock 42 .380 ACP, and S&W Shield EZ 9mm.

Yet when I switched over to the Specials the leftward pull disappeared and my shot groups were much better-centered. There was one instance, one egregious high flier on one of my 7-yard head shots with the Specials.

Regardless of leftward vs. center impact relative to point-of-aim, I was quite delighted with the 7-yard and 15-yard groups alike with both calibers.

As for the 25-yard head shot stage, I was 6/10 with the Magnums and 7/10 with the Specials; my lame copout/excuse will be that the orange head of the Thompson Target Basic Training Silhouette is smaller and harder to focus on than the large-noggin black & white ICE-QT targets I’m used to using at SEG. 

Incidentally, this was my first time firing a 7-shot revolver, so it took a bit of getting used to; more than once I ejected after a mere 6 shots; luckily none of those unfired rounds got away from me, so I was ultimately still able to give all the rounds a proper downrange sendoff.

Overall, a delightful shooting experience. Now I gotta get go me a 686 Plus of my own!

Want Your Own?

Current MSRP is $979.00 USD. True Gun Value states that “A SMITH & WESSON MODEL 686 PLUS pistol is currently worth an average price of $846.45 new. The 12-month average price is $846.45 new.” Guns.Com currently lists one at $969.99. 

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Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).