Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Guns: S&W 686 PC review (2.5" snubnose) - Plus Size Performance

Introduction


Smith & Wesson's Performance Center turns out some fascinating semi-custom guns of dubious utility, like the subject of today's review - the 686 Plus PC snub. It's designed as a high-end .357 magnum concealed carry option and comes equipped with all sorts of literal chrome, but is it worth the thousand-dollar asking price?

First Impressions

The 686 PC has a slab-sided 2.5" barrel that actually conceals pretty well. Unfortunately, the barrel is mated to a standard 686P frame and 7-shot cylinder, as well as long wood grips. The package positively dwarfs more reasonably-sized belt revolvers like the Model 60 Pro and the 642.  It also weighs 34 ounces, making it almost impossible to carry in anything other than an OWB belt holster.


In hand, the gun feels pretty good. The slim finger-grooved wood grips won't be to everyone's taste, but they are nicely stippled and don't add additional bulk to the backstrap. The sights are also excellent - the big bright red-orange front ramp is mated with an adjustable rear sight, which is perfect for a personal defense revolver that can fire everything from .38 wadcutters to full-tilt magnums.



The 686 PC has a chromed trigger (with overtravel stop), a chromed hammer, and an unfluted hammer cut for moonclips (actually carrying the moonclips as a reload is impractical, but they do ease the emptying of the first cylinder of fired shells in a fight). The Performance Center also performs an action job on the gun, giving it a very smooth and light trigger pull in both single and double action.

Cosmetically, I dock the 686 PC several style points because the front sight juts out of the dovetail on both sides, and because it sports a ridiculously large ".357 Mag 7x" billboard etched on the left side of the barrel.

Range Report

In my hands, the short barrel and sight radius somewhat hampered performance from the big snub, at least compared to a conventional 4" barrel 686. I managed to get okay accuracy at 15 yards out of my handloads (158 gr. Speer lead SWCHP over 3.2 gr. Bullseye), but other revolvers can certainly do better, even when yours truly is pulling shots everywhere:


Remington 125 gr. Golden Saber registered similar accuracy (ignore the leftmost shot). This is a pretty light load:


Next up was Magtech 158 grainers, which were all over the place. To be fair, the huge, blinding muzzle flash might have been a factor:


One good characteristic of this revolver is that because of the tuned action and the relatively large frame/grip size, you can still be quite accurate at range with a double-action pull. One bad characteristic of this revolver is that the lightened springs can lead to light primer strikes when the gun is dirty (I believe this is because some of the hammer's impact energy is wasted pushing the round forwards into the cylinder). Another problem is S&W's infamous key lock, which really doesn't belong in a defensive revolver.


Though this gun can certainly handle a steady diet of .357, and the recoil from such loads is not bad at all, I'd still probably carry it with .38 +Ps. Here are two cylinders' worth of Remington HTP 158 gr. +P lead hollowpoints (a/k/a the poor man's "FBI load") at 15 yards:


Conclusion

So would I recommend this gun? Probably not. Though the work done by the Performance Center is pretty good, the 686 PC doesn't exist in a vacuum. Compared with a standard 686 2.5" snub, you're paying about a $250 premium for (1) grips that you may or may not like, (2) a trigger stop that you don't really need, (3) a slab-sided barrel that doesn't seem to improve accuracy, and (4) a cylinder cut for moonclips that are finicky and hard to carry. For most people, I think the better option is to buy the standard snub and do the work you want to it.

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