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A week of walking around in the woods with the Smith and Wesson Model 686 SSR and I came to the brilliant conclusion that pressing it into trail gun duty would offer the most shooting opportunities. So there I went, up and down hills, putting tree stumps and pine cones, near and far, out of their collective miseries. You don’t even want to know about the giant fungus massacres. Unfortunately, I was not set upon by an angry bear, a rabid fox or malcontent moose, so nothing there to report.

Compact and narrow, the S&W hugged my hip and did not cause my pants to fall down. A big plus and not one to be taken for granted. To me, a perfect trail gun does not get in the way or keep reminding you that it is there by rubbing at your side or tugging at your belt. Pulled from a holster in a high grip, the Model 686 fills the hand, conforms easily to a two handed hold, and the sights settle quickly on a target. Muzzle jump is not major and recovery for follow on shots is minimal.

Most of my shooting was done with hard cast 158 grain handloads; 9.5 grains of Power Pistol, small pistol primer and R-P brass, which were good for 1259 fps through the Smith and Wesson’s 4″ barrel. That is about where Power Pistol ran out of steam and began bumping pressure too high for my taste, so I switched to Hodgdon’s Lil’ Gun and Winchester 296 and worked up some new handloads for both the 158 grain and 190 grain cast bullets. Either will hole punch a deer or hog, or break heavy bone. There is higher velocity rated cast bullet ammo available from Buffalo Bore and Grizzly in similar weights, however, the handloads cost about 80% less than that factory ammo.

Two for the trail or hunting

Bullet Manufacturer
Acme Hard Cast Self Defense &Hunting SWC 158 0.715 1.600
Hunter’s Supply – Hard Cast Hunting FP 190 0.756 1.600

There seems to be a common misperceptions regarding the 190 grain Hunters Supply bullet, with some folks thinking the bullet is made for the 35 Remington or 35 Whelen centerfire rifle cartridge. Hunters Supply lists the bullet for 38/357 application at 0.357″ diameter and 35 Remington and 35 Whelen at 0.358″ and the 357 Magnum case has more than sufficient capacity to handle this weight.

Both handloads loads exceed SAAMI maximum cartridge overall length, but easily clear the Smith & Wesson Model 686’s cylinder face. The measured length from breech face to cylinder face is 1.700″. Typically, magnum small pistol primers would be used with both powder types, but standard small pistol primers were used, producing reliable ignition and very uniform shot to shot velocity.

Warning:Bullet selections are specific, and loads are not valid with substitutions of different bullets of the same weight. Variations in bullet length will alter net case capacity,  pressure and velocity. Primer selection is specific and primer types are not interchangeable. These are maximum loads in my firearms and may easily be excessive in others. All loads should be reduced by 5%,  and developed following safe handloading practices as represented in established reloading manuals produced by component manufacturers. Presentation of these loads does not constitute a solicitation for their use, nor a recommendation.

Cartridge: 357 Mag

 Firearm: S&W Model 686 SSR  COL: 1.405″ – 1.590″
 Bullet Diameter:
 0.3590″ +0.0000″/-0.0030″ (Lead)
 0.3580″ +0.0000″/-0.0030″ (Jacketed)
 Primer: CCI 500
 Barrel: 4.00″  Reloading Dies: Lee Precision
 Max case length: 1.290″ +0.0000″/-0.0200″  


COL and Capacity   Load Data & Performance
Bullet Type Bullet
  Powder Charge
5 Shot
Group ”
25 Yards
Acme Hard Cast 158 1.600 15.3 Lil’ Gun 15.5 1307 599 2.0
Acme Hard Cast 158 1.600 15.3 Win 296 16.0 1282 577 2.4
Hunters Supply FP357 190 1.600 4.4   Lil’ Gun 14.4 1241 650 2.2
Hunters Supply FP357 190 1.600 14.4   Win 296 14.4 1175 583 2.5
Groups shot from a well supported sand bag rest.

Neither load resulted in noticeable leading at these velocities, no pulled bullets and no malfunctions. The 190 grain did produce noticeably greater muzzle rise and recoil, but neither handload  was at a level that would be deemed objectionable. Which to choose for a deer or hog hunt?

As can be seen below, the 190 grain load generate a bit more power and the 158 grain does not shoot substantially flatter. However, I think the significant factor is in momentum which is a good indication of penetration. Neither are expanding bullets and rely on penetration for killing power and penetration becomes significantly important when we accept that deer don’t always present themselves in silhouette for an ideal shot.

190 Grain 122 Yards Point Blank +3 Ordinate

Yards 0 50 100 150 200 250 300
Velocity – fps 1241 1147 1073 1015 969 930 895
Energy – ft.-lbs. 650 555 486 435 396 365 338
Momentum – lbs-sec 1.04 0.96 0.90 0.85 0.81 0.78 0.75
Path – in. -1.5 2.8 0.6 -9.3 -27.5 -55.0 -92.5
Time of flight – sec. 0.0 0.1 0.3 0.4 0.6 0.7 0.9



158 Grain 127 Yards Point Blank +3 Ordinate

Yards 0 50 100 150 200 250 300
Velocity – fps 1307 1201 1115 1048 996 953 915
Energy – ft.-lbs. 599 506 436 386 348 318 294
Momentum – lbs-sec 0.91 0.84 0.78 0.73 0.70 0.67 0.64
Path – in. -1.5 2.8 1.0 -7.7 -24.4 -49.8 -84.8
Time of flight – sec. 0.0 0.1 0.2 0.4 0.5 0.7 0.9


Life is filled with subjective decisions and appropriateness of decision varies with circumstance. As an example, at the moment I am sharing time between thumping on a keyboard and eating a sandwich. Not just any sandwich, but rather a baked, butterflied and breaded pork chop, with double smoked cheddar cheese over olive oil fried mushrooms and served between two slices of whole wheat bread. An excellent decision today, but only because my next cardiology appointment is out six months.

Owning a Smith and Wesson Model 686 SSR is probably a safer decision and one that would be more enduring. The Model 686 looks good, is well made and has potential well beyond that of overwhelming majority of people who will shoot them. Its 4″ barrel is a good place to stand between a struggling to hit the side of a barn snubby and Earpian hand cannons that are better suited to a saddle scabbard. It is compact enough for concealed carry, but long enough in the barrel to deliver deer killing ballistics. The Smith and Wesson Model 686 SSR is an excellent, reliable and accurate high quality revolver.