Many of the guns I have purchased have been done so with the idea of being the “last rifle” or “last pistol” I’ll ever need to buy. Of course this never actually works out in practice – something new comes along and I catch the bug. Once in a while, though, I find something that is pretty much perfect as-is, and it endures. An example of this phenomenon: the venerable Smith & Wesson 686. It is my One if I could have only one, my hell or high-water sixgun, my “gun to ride the river with.”

Smith & Wesson 686

The 4″ Smith & Wesson 686 is the revolver that captured my imagination more than any other as a kid. Because I didn’t handle many actual revolvers as a kid, my fascination was merely due to the aesthetics of the thing. And I admit that to this day, no other revolver comes close to achieving the perfectly balanced look of the 4″ 686 (except maybe the 3″ and 5″ 686s…which still only come close). But calling a revolver perfect based on looks alone could responsibly be characterized as irresponsible. So why do I consider the S&W 686 to be the perfect revolver (and maybe even the perfect handgun)?

Perfect Revolver
My 4″, pre-lock 686-3.

It’s made to shoot. The 686 is built on the L-Frame, Smith & Wesson’s medium-large revolver chassis. The L-Frame was designed to correct the weaknesses of the smaller, lighter K-Frame with a thicker top strap and heavier forcing cone, while keeping the grip the same size. A few other dimensions in the gun were increased, resulting in a revolver that is designed for hard use with full-power .357 Magnum ammo.

Perfect Revolver
The beefy forcing cone and top-strap of the 686.

The mid-large dimensions of the L-Frame make the 686 heavy. This is not the worst thing. First, it soaks up recoil like a sponge. You can run the gun hard and run it fast. You can shoot any SAAMI-spec’d .357 Magnum load available, and do so with a smile on your face. The heft of this wheelgun also lends some stability when more precision is desired. In competent hands, a revolver of this size can be counted on to ring steel reliably at 100 yards or more. It is likely that it could also make an ill-intentioned rifleman of mediocre skill downright uncomfortable at similar remove.

Perfect Revolver

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