Sunday, July 11, 2010

Classic Gun Review: Original Model Smith and Wesson 586 .357 Magnum


I like automatic pistols just fine. I have shot quite an assortment of them and own some nice ones. But, as I have mentioned elsewhere, I find the double action revolver  a friendlier piece of machinery, more convenient all around. A wheel gun is adequate for most purposes, so that is what I'll reach for most every time.

Someone, though, thought this old S&W an inadequate weapon and obsolete; it was a police trade-in from the era when departments in droves were abandoning their revolvers and buying automatics. Those were great days if you liked revolvers; you could get good ones very cheap. This one sold off cheaper than most. It had big patches of holster wear on barrel and cylinder, down to bare pitted metal, and there were some stains and rust freckles in the bluing that remained. The wooden grips were chipped and the varnish was peeling off of them.

Obviously this was a gun that had been carried in all weathers for years, but examination showed it had not been shot as much as its age and outward condition might suggest. There was only light marking of the cylinder by its stop, the lockwork was firm, the timing was correct and the rifling was clean and sharp. Barrel-to-cylinder gap was on the generous side, but within spec. Flame cutting on the topstrap was detectable but minor, more of a bit of frizzled marring of the metal's surface than a well established groove. Verdict: The cop shot enough to qualify, but he wasn't the kind who was into spending days off honing his skills at the shooting range. 

I touched up the worst of the finish problems with cold blue and called it good enough. I threw on some gun show Pachmayr grips (surplus from another department) and found I had a fine shooter! From a rest, my new old gun tried to shoot golf ball sized groups, though my holding errors sometimes interfered with it doing what it wanted to do.

The gun has a very smooth double action pull and a crisp and light single action pull, S&W's excellent adjustable rear sight and a red plastic insert in the front ramp. It is a heavy gun, a little over 2 1/2 pounds, and muzzle-heavy, because of the barrel's underlug and solid rib. With .38 +P loads, it's a real pussycat. It has more of a jolt with heavy magnums, but it's still quite controllable. Taken together, its features make this gun very shootable, easy to hit with. The L frames, such as the 586 and 686 (stainless model) were the ultimate development of the Smith & Wesson police revolver, in the sense that this was what they were making when development stopped and the cops went to autoloaders. The L frame is beefier than the K frame of the famous Model 10, but not as bulky as the N frame of the original .357 Magnum. The stated idea was to produce a reasonably compact cop gun that would hold up to a steady diet of hot loads, but I wonder if recoil reduction didn't have more to do with it. The cop who had this one, anyway, didn't shoot it enough for the added durability to matter.

This particular 586 was involved in a product recall that covered the earliest models, and had, when I got it, the "M" stamp inside the yoke, to show the upgrade was completed.  Something to do with the firing pin and bushing, and the cylinder binding up with certain hot loads.

The question in my mind is, why did the cops think their revolvers weren't adequate? Oh, I remember the gun press explanations at the time, about drugged up PCP monsters not lying down when shot, and drug thugs with Uzis, but six rounds of .357, or even +P .38, make a pretty formidable inducement to stop whatever you were doing, IF they hit their target.

But that's the problem, isn't it? It's obvious the previous bearer of this arm was not much into target practice. Having a seventeen shooter might make him feel more secure than having a six shooter, but if he won't practice much with either gun, is he all that much more secure? Let me be clear: I am not knocking the cops, for they have many more things to think about than marksmanship. Theirs is s a tough and complicated job and it has many aspects that are more important than one's skills as a gunman. The fact is, though, that most shots fired by police at bad guys miss. Oddly enough, I did not hear that advanced as an argument in favor of arming police with high capacity pistols--for I think it's the real reason.

I dunno. This old Smith was, and is, a great sidearm. It's simple to operate, vastly reliable and quite as powerful as it needs to be. It represents the last days of the very long era in which the DA revolver was the undisputed top choice for police use, and more often than not, the gun said Smith and Wesson on it. I wish I'd bought more of them when they were cheap. 

1 comment:

  1. Gosh I remember the first time I saw one of these in 1981. I I wondered if someone had put a S&W grip on a Colt Python. Then someone told me it was the new L-Frame Smith. I'll always be a believer in the reliability of revolvers. Perhaps it boils down to horses for courses. I think if I had to face a single bank robber with sawn off 12 gauge and I could choose PISTOL I wanted I'd opt for a revolver because any malfunction would be fatal. For bad guys in battalion strength I might consider a Glock.Though ideally in both situations you'd want more than a pistol.

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