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A credo for gun owners might be, “If you can’t own a lot of guns, own guns you can use a lot”. Surely the 357 Magnum qualifies as such a firearm. Introduced in 1935 with the influence of Elmer Keith and Phil Sharpe, the 357 Magnum was a slow starter. Its rise to popularity was slowed by the high price of introduction models and only 158 grain cast bullet factory ammunition. By 1955, the too expensive hardware issue was resolved with the S&W N frame Highway Patrolman and the S&W K frame 357 Combat Magnum, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s that ammunition issue was resolved with a variety of jacketed bullet, factory ammunition offerings.

The S&W Model 686 SSR has been with us only since 2010. However, at its foundation is the 1980  S&W Model 686 Distinguished Combat Magnum. Stronger than the K frame Model 66, the Model 686 was designed to take routine pounding from 357 Magnum ammunition. Six design iterations separate the original Distinguished Combat Magnum from the current S&W 686-6 Pro Series Stock Service revolver, which makes the S&W Model 686 SSR a time and tested refinement.

The S&W 686-6 Pro Series Revolver is a; a 357 Magnum configured for NRA and similar Stock Service Revolver competition. Setting aside the issue of competition, because under my ownership the Model 686 SSR would not see competition,  The M686’s features make it an excellent defensive handgun, a heck of a trail gun and an excellent companion gun during hunting season. I am sure this revolver could be used for handgun hunting, however, I do not personally deer hunt with the 357 Magnum or shorter length barrel revolvers of any caliber. Just a personal preference, not grounded in ballistic capability and I have been out with other folks who have easily dropped deer and boar with cast bullet 357 Magnum loads. Penetration is exceptional and a shot to the vitals is all that is necessary.

I had a good laugh the other day, reading about a guy who said he shot a hog with a 357 Magnum in the “side armored plates” (his terminology, not mine) and he reported that the bullet “only went in a quarter of an inch before bouncing off”. He would never use a 357 Magnum because a feral hog can take a cylinder full and still have plenty of life to muster a deadly charge (His words, not mine). Sounded more like a duel to the death with a triceratops. I do not generally hunt hogs with a revolver solely because their relatively short sight radius and my relic eyesight.

Sometimes enhancements come in the form of small but meaningful touches. Below, the feature is listed as “chamfered charge holes”, which essentially means a 45° cutter puts a chafer at the entrance to each chamber that speeds single and speed loader, loading. Not a minor features as not fumbling when reloading is a very good thing.

Model – S&W Model 686 SSR

Company Smith & Wesson
Point of Origin Springfield MA
SKU # 178012
Type of Action DA/SA Revolver
Caliber 357 Magnum / 38 Special +P
Capacity 6
Barrel Length 4″
Hardware Stainless Steel
Finish Matte
Rifling Twist Rate 1:18.75″
Grips Hardwood Laminate
Front Sight Ramped – Interchangeable
Rear Sight Adjustable – Notched
Weight of Firearm 38.3 Oz.
Overall Length 9.75″
Overall Height 5.9″
Width 1.562″
Key Lock Yes
CA Certified Yes
MA Certified Yes
MSRP $999

Grasping the SSR’s grip places the hand naturally in a high hold and, for me at lease, when I bring the sights up they are in nearly perfect vertical alignment rather than offset high or low and requiring a good deal of correction. Checking grip to bore centerline interior angles with an inexpensive Goniometer, the front of the grip checks a tight 95º to 96º and the back something on the order of 101º to 102º. It is not unlike grabbing a Bisley target style grip.

Bossed mainspring, below – Generally, as a standard mainspring is deflected it builds resistance/force in a linear fashion and proportional to the rotation of the hammer. Consequently, the closer the trigger gets to sear release, the heavier the resistance. Consequently, the pull beings light and then it builds to pine board snapping resistance just before hammer release. Changing to a lighter spring eases the effort at the end of the pull stroke, but also diminishes strike force and ignition reliability. Milling a spring to a tapered thickness juggles resistance curves a bit, but the result is essentially the same.

The boss spring places a tapered raised rib down the center of the flat spring, giving it a variable rate which makes the spring a little heavier than a conventional spring at early deflection, but building less as the spring deflects and nearly eliminating trigger stack up. A range of spring rates is available for folks who like to fine tune. For folks who like to research, there is patent information. As a side note the original Model 686 was a square butt frame, the Model 686 SSR is round butt, with grip profiles controlling hand fit and positioning.

The model 686 SSR has a “custom barrel with recessed crown”. The recess depth is 0.040″ and the angle of the crown is 11°. The recess protects the crown and the crown deflects the minute powder, brass and bullet ejecta away from the base of the exiting bullet. If there are nicks at a firearm’s muzzle, or if the crown if cut off-perpendicular to the bore, the approximately 500 psi of muzzle pressure hitting the base of the bullet could be destabilizing and cause a loss of precision.

A little better picture of the business end of the Model 686 SSR that shows the recessed crown, the roll pinned and easy to change front sight and the slab sided 4″ barrel and angular full length shroud. The treatment assures that the revolver at 38.3 Oz. will be inside the IDPA maximum unloaded weight limit  of 43.0 Oz., it gets weight off the nose of the revolver to make it quick handling and fast on target, while still providing a full 4″ of barrel length and ejector rod protection.

The 686 SSR is narrow in a holster. The cylinder diameter, the thickest part of the revolver is only 1.562″, measured not nominal, still leaving plenty of meat in the cylinder walls, outer and adjacent.

The rear sights, micro adjustable for windage and elevation, are well made, uniform in adjustment and work well in contrasting the orange front sight on light or dark targets. The ramped front sight, beaded stainless and black/orange blade produce no glare even in bright sunlight.

Double action

Double action pull checked just under twelve pounds, single action checked 6 lbs 3 oz. For folks not familiar with double action revolvers, double action pull may seem heavy. Short form, the double action pull includes the effort required to compress the revolver’s mainspring. The sear and hammer relationship allows a simple trigger pull to discharge the revolver with no other steps required.

The trigger pull is not particularly heavy, it is smooth and relatively easy to master with a little practice. Preloading the mainspring by manually cocking the hammer and reducing pull to single action operation certainly works… for people who won’t practice, but that method of operation kind of defeats the purpose of a double action revolver. For me, the part that requires the most practice is holding steady on target throughout a long trigger pull.

Assorted and sundry live fire…

Certainly not an all inclusive selection of ammunition, but a good down and dirty cross section. Remington Golden Saber has since been discontinued and reintroduced with the same components as “Ultimate Defense” where I am sure sales jumped when people rushed to buy “new”. Under either name it is excellent defensive ammunition.

The cast handload is a 158 grain that is loaded here in load is bulk quantities and shot frequently; Acme hard cast 158 grain bullet over 9.5 grains of power pistol.  This example is coated, but I’ve used the plain cast and lubed version predominately since the thrill of shooting red bullets wore off. Sounds like a segue into a B.B. King song.

Ammunition Caliber Bullet
25 Yds
5 Shot
Winchester Target 38 Special FMJ 130 800 830 1.9
Remington Golden Saber 357 Mag BJHP 125 1220 1231 2.5
Handload – Hard Cast 357 Mag SWC 158 1280 1259 2.0
Remington High Terminal Performance 357 Mag SJHP 180 1145 1181 2.3

Groups shot from a sandbag rest

Shooting 38 Specials is inexpensive and easy. Not truly a hefty revolver, it has enough to reduce this type of ammo to a minimum recoil and low report. The next two has a little more snap and boom, but still nothing of consequence. The 180 grain Remington round has a bit more muzzle climb and push, but nothing at all difficult to manage. Within this group, applications from target shooting to hog hunting, armor plate or not, are covered.

OK, so the S&W Model 686 SSR is a well balanced, well made and accurate revolver. The 4″ barrel makes it holster worthy and its heft makes it very manageable. The 357 Mag chamber and a little imagination would provide unlimited uses and many hours of recreation or security. I’m going to take a break and see if I can put together some handloads and log a little more time behind the grip.