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.357 Magnum Revolver 3-Way Range Showdown: Colt vs Smith vs Ruger – Who Wins?

Colt King Cobra. Image: Creative Commons.
Image: Creative Commons.

Ruger has a longstanding reputation for its double-action (DA) revolvers.

The Ruger GP-100 is a personal favorite in the wheelgun category.

There are, however, some strong contenders in the .357 “wheelies” from other makers.

I have a sentimental soft spot for the Colt King Cobra, and I’ve recently taken a major shine to the Smith & Wesson Model 686. 

Contestant #1: Colt King Cobra

This was the only one of the three contestants that’s in my personal “Orr-senal of Democracy” as opposed to a rental gun. Regarding that aforementioned “sentimental soft spot,” as mentioned in a previous review of the King Cobra, it was both the first revolver and the first Magnum-caliber gun of any kind that I ever fired, doing so on my very first day of shooting in 1989. 

However, it wasn’t until this past December that I finally managed to take that proverbial trip down Memory Lane when I got ahold of a surplus old-school King Cobra, as the “reincarnated”  King Cobras that came out in 2019 just don’t carry the same appeal.  

Contestant #2: Smith & Wesson Model 686

The Smith 686 reviewed earlier this year – at Cindy’s Hot Shots in Glen Burnie, Maryland as a rental and test-firing venue – was the so-called “Plus” model that held a 7th round in the cylinder. SEG’s rental 686 is a semi-custom Pro Series version, which the manufacturer’s official info page describes thusly: “Completing the line between main production and the Performance Center, the Smith & Wesson Pro Series represents the next step from standard models. These firearms are offered with a variety of enhancements yet still remain true to ‘stock.’ Bringing competition specifications and features to factory models, the Pro Series offer that ready-to-go package while still maintaining production line integrity.”

Contestant #3: Ruger GP-100 Match Champion 

I originally hoped to have my personally-owned factory stock 6” bbl. GP-100 for this occasion, but alas, that old girl is still in storage in Fort Worth, Texas. Hence my having to go with a rental specimen instead, which, like the rental Smith, turned out to be a semi-custom gun: the GP-100 Match Champion.

Now, I must confess, I was taken aback at first when I saw that this fancier version of the beloved GP-100 had a frickity-frackin’ wood grip as opposed to the rubber grips of the original; as I’ve said repeatedly, I far prefer rubber to wood for revolver grips for better recoil control and shooting comfort. At least it’s a good quality hardwood Hogue Monogrip “with stippled sides permits an ideal grip for competition shooting.” The main reason that the manufacturer deems this gun a “Match Champion is “The half-lug 4.2″ barrel delivers lively handling for quick transition between targets and also features an 11-degree target crown for competitive-level accuracy.”

Range Showdown 

The course of fire for each gun was as follows:

—15 rounds, head shots, 7 yards, DA trigger mode

—10 rounds (5 weak hand-only, 5 strong-hand only), groin shots, 5 yards, DA trigger mode

—15 rounds,  torso shots, 25 yards, single-action (SA) trigger mode

—10 rounds torso shots, 50 yards, (SA) trigger mode

All of the two-handed shooting was done from the Classic Weaver Stance, while the one-handed work utilized the StressFire Forward Punch technique I learned from reading Massad F. Ayoob’s eponymous book. The ammo used was Federal American Eagle 158-grain jacketed soft point (JSP).

You’d think the no-frills Colt would be at a disadvantage compared to the two spruced-up competitors — especially with the grittiest-feeling DA trigger and the stickiest cartridge extraction and ejection of the bunch — but it remarkably held its own, including being the only one to have neither misses nor mere 2-zone hits at 50 yards! (However, no tiebreaking 5x’s at that distance either, and it had the widest grouping on 1-handers.) The comfy rubber grips certainly helped. 

The Smith unsurprisingly had the smoothest DA trigger, but interestingly had only slightly better extraction/ejection qualities than the Colt. The trigger quality and the ergonomically pleasing factory rubber grip gave me the best one-handed performance of the three in terms of centering and group tightness. 

The Ruger had the slickest ejection/extraction and a DA trigger quality that was only slightly below that of the Smith’s; it was also the only of the three guns with tritium three-dot sights, though all three guns provided an excellent sight picture (traditional ramp style on the Colt and Smith). The hardwood was actually a pleasant surprise in terms of felt recoil, but still proved the most awkward of the three when it came to one-handed shooting. 

All three guns were virtually neck-and-neck in SA trigger quality and 7-yard performance. At 25 yards, the Smith dropped one round into the 4-zone for an overall score of 74/75; the Colt and Ruger both got a perfect 75/75, with the Ruger nailing a remarkable 10 hits in the 5x tiebreaker zone. At 50 yards, the Colt scored a 47/50 (again in spite of no 5x’s), the Smith 46/50 (had one lousy 2-zone drop), and the Ruger 44/50 (thanks to a really bad total whiff).

And the Winner Is …

Any one of them would be an excellent choice, and they were all fun to shoot.

But since one of my USC buddies who’s a fellow gun enthusiast asked me via my Facebook page “So which one are you grabbing when the zombies start coming?” I had to give him an answer: “Man oh man, that’s a toughie … probably the Ruger, for sheer long-term durability … plus this one had tritium night sights on it (you know, better for brain shots against the zombies during low-light conditions).”

Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 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).