Lightning Review: 1983 Smith & Wesson 686 “No Dash” – A Classic Range Partner

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Many pistol shooters of my generation grew up in a world with a wide variety of fantastic black plastic handguns that are as durable as a tank, have triggers ranging from “decent” to “awful”, run below six notes in price, and are uniformly ugly as sin. These are very practical weapons for self-defense, but for a lot of people they bring pistol shooting closer to a chore than recreation. For a while now, I’ve been looking for a handgun that could come with me on Pistol Day and add a little more fun to the experience, and maybe a touch of class, too. Unlike Alex C, I’m not made of money, and I couldn’t just go out and buy a Manhurin or a Python and be done with it, so instead I went looking for Smiths. Recently, I found one that I wanted at the right price: A “no dash” Model 686 in .357 Magnum, made in 1983.

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The 686 was introduced largely as a belated response to the Python, and it was Smith & Wesson’s first .357 Magnum handgun with the same full underlug profile that was so distinctive about the Python. In a lot of ways the 686 has become the “poor man’s Python”, in fact, especially since the now-discontinued Colt is fetching three grand and above. I admit the resemblance to the Python was part of the reason I chose this particular revolver, but I also wanted something that had old-fashioned pre-MIM lockwork, a firing pin on the hammer, and no unsightly lock on the side. That meant I had to get a -4 or earlier model, but I’m quite pleased I ended up with one of the earliest ones, for nostalgia reasons.

The thing about quality revolvers like these Smiths, though, is that they aren’t just good looking; they shoot great, too. In fact, after having taken this pistol to the range, I think it might be my best-shooting handgun, although depending on the ammunition I am using, my 1990-made P220 can shoot equally well.

To illustrate how nice of a shooter these pistols are, here are some groups:

Hornady 125gr FTX .357

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Aguila 130gr FMJ .38

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The neat thing about a pistol like this is how easy it is to shoot it this well. After the range trip was over, I joked that the 686 “basically shoots itself”, and that’s not far off. Printings groups like those above is as easy as gripping the gun, resting its flat butt on a bag, lining up the excellent sights (which were much better than I expected, as I am partial to wide, serrated black sights), and pressing the trigger. I am not exaggerating when I say that I think the last gun I shot that was this easy to master was probably a $10,000 benchrest rig, not to make a comparison regarding accuracy, of course. A big part of this is the trigger, which breaks at about 3.6 pounds on my gun, and in terms of creep, overtravel, etc. is as perfect a one as I have ever owned.

Once upon a time, of course, wheelguns like these were considered state-of-the-art fighting guns, but now those days are over. However, a Glock may be the better business partner, but when it comes to making me smile on the range, I’ll take my Smith.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Don Ward

    And the wonderful thing is that an old warhorse like this still is viable for a variety niches in the handgun world.

  • Russian Troll Spetsnaz

    The Nagant M1895 Revolver is a seven-shot, gas-seal revolver designed and produced by Belgian industrialist Léon Nagant for the Russian Empire.

    The Nagant M1895 was chambered for a proprietary cartridge, 7.62×38mmR, and featured an unusual “gas-seal” system, in which the cylinder moved forward when the gun was cocked, to close the gap between the cylinder and the barrel, providing a boost to the muzzle velocity of the fired projectile. The Nagant’s sealed firing system meant that the Nagant revolver, unlike most other revolvers, could make effective use of a sound suppressor, and suppressors were sometimes fitted to it.

    The Nagant M1895 was adopted as the standard issue side arm for the Imperial Russian Army and police officers, where it replaced earlier Smith & Wesson models.

    • You know, when I was your age, I was much better at trolling than you are.

      • Anonymoose

        I don’t even see how this is trolly. It’s like he’s copypasting stuff from a wiki. Is he trying to claim the old handnugget is somehow better than a modern swing-out cylinder Smith?

        • You know what the weirdest part is? He’s already been IP banned multiple times, so he’s setting up new proxies every time just to continue this… Postmodern art piece, or whatever it is.

          I mean, there’s having an unexciting life, and then there’s this.

          • Don Ward

            You are able to suppress Nagant revolvers but you can’t suppress Russian trolls?

          • Russian Troll Spetsnaz

            First of all, I am not trolling, I am kidding. You are too serious, man.

            Second, I was banned by IP that is not my IP, I’ve been using VPN soft for a long time. Have 100 IP’s to choose from. High-speed connection, and there is nothing to set up. Just choose… So the next time, if you want someone to go, just ask him to leave. Don’t be a…

            This is Internet, son.

      • Swarf

        It’s not even trolling. It’s living La Vida Ctrl-V.

        Senseless and lazy.

    • Joe

      Trolling aside, besides the multiple faults with the M1895 the one feature I wish was incorporated into a modern revolver is the gas seal. It could help with suppression even without special cartridges, and possibly prevent the injuries to the support hand caused by the gap.

      • DanGoodShot

        I have to say, I am really surprised that no other wheel gun has yet to hit the market with that feature.

        • Sunshine_Shooter

          It’s almost as if people who buy revolvers aren’t concerned with the latest technological advancements… Weird. 🙂

        • schizuki

          Ever pull the trigger on a Nagant? All that extra camming takes effort.

          • iksnilol

            Heavy, but can be made smooth and consistent (and somewhat lighter) through tuning and mods.

            Won’t be a hair trigger, but respectable. And with the accuracy potential of the mechanism, it’d benefit from a match barrel.

        • DanGoodShot

          Makes sence. Still though, you can find em with picatinny rails everywhere. They have “tacticool” ones now. I would have thought they’d the ability to put a can on it. Would I buy one? No. But I’m sure someone would. I would shoot one. But then again, I’d shoot just about any gun!

      • Vizzini

        The gas seal was what made the whole thing so complicated and required the special ammunition (the casings themselves were part of the seal). It’s much easier said than done.

        • iksnilol

          Is pretty easy to do:

          -Use .357 maximum brass
          -seat bullet inside the case so it doesn’t stick out past the mouth.
          -???
          -Profit

          • Vizzini

            I think that would qualify as a special cartridge.

          • iksnilol

            Yeah, but not too special. If you wanted you could just use regular .357 magnum cases and load the bullet far back. Should at the very least get .38 special performance

          • ostiariusalpha

            Reloaders overseat .38 Special cartridges all the time to shoot in revolvers chambered for .38 Short Colt.

    • DIR911911 .

      yes . . . we know. even they got rid of it in 1952

  • Steven T

    These old vintage Smith’s seem to be fetching top dollar. I just wish that S&W hadn’t implemented that goofy “locking system” on the new models.

    • Spencerhut

      Thank the Clinton’s for the lock and pretty much every other thing S&W made that sucked in the last two decades.

      • Sunshine_Shooter

        I don’t understand why they haven’t removed the side locks from their revolvers. People either hate them or don’t notice them. Maybe for California compliance?

        • DataMatters

          Lawyers.

          • pdxing

            Let’s not forget that S&W was purchased in 2001 by Saf-T-Hammer, an Arizona based company that makes gun locks. Within a year Saf-T-Hammer changed it’s name to Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation and still owns S&W to this day.

          • CountryBoy

            Q: Why do they bury lawyers twelve feet down instead of six feet down?

            A: Because deep down, they’re not all that bad.

      • Bill

        And more is on the way if Black November comes to pass. Yeah, I had to say it.

    • iksnilol

      You can remove it and put a plate to cover up the hole where it was.

    • Luckily, the locks can be disabled with minimal fuss. Or you can buy pre-lock (which often includes more desirable components, finishes, and features). I hate to use platitudes, but you can find deals on vintage S&Ws if you shop around locally. Gunbroker excels at matching supply & demand but local folks don’t. Hunt around on Armslist or in non-retail chain gunshops.

    • CissyScum

      The Hillary Hole

      • jerome

        Please don’t say Hillary hole. It may catch on and visions of Hillary’s hole will pop up up in my mind. Now all I can think of is a dusty, moldy cobweb covered basement with soggy boxes or a moist dark and cold cave in which I may never return from its vastness.

        • CountryBoy

          Well, that’s probably a better image than some had!

  • Nebelwerfer

    It is indeed a very nice revolver (although I prefer the blued 586 to the stainless 686), but the pictures of the groups are practically worthless without any mention of what distance they were shot at. At 25m (27yds) groups like that are impressive; at 7 yds you might as well be touching the target with the barrel.

    • I should have said; they were at about 10m.

      • DataMatters

        I have a 4″ 686-1 that looks almost exactly the same. I have shot it indoors at 75ft and it groups superbly. 10m is air rifle distance, lol!

        • 10m is where the bench was set. I do most of my pistol shooting at 15m, but I am not a tremendously good shot with a handgun, anyway.

  • Spencerhut

    “Unlike Alex C, I’m not made of money” Right? That dude has all the cool toys . . . or knows where to borrow them.

    • ostiariusalpha

      Unlike Hickok45, Alex rarely uses borrowed guns in his videos; if you see him shoot it, then it is probably from his collection.

    • Sunshine_Shooter

      Between the full autos, the obscure guns, the expensive and rare guns, and the expensive cars lately, I’m starting to believe Mr. C was a founder of Google or something.

      • PersonCommenting

        I think he is some type of finance guy. Regardless I am glad there is a wealthy gunner out there. I wouldnt see half the firearms that are shown if there wasnt guys like this. I wouldnt know as much either because while there are several 1 off video youtubers that provide one or two different reviews on guns they have they rarely go into the history of them.

        Alex and gang have been killing it with TFB lately and I hope they can only add to their wealth with it.

        • Sunshine_Shooter

          Agreed, TFBTV is absolutely killing it. I am genuinely excited every time I see one of their videos in my subscriptions.

      • Giolli Joker

        I’m pretty sure that the family business is truck and van rental (check the domain of his email).
        Anyway, I agree with PersonCommenting’s point of view: we benefit somehow.

  • ostiariusalpha

    That is a beauty! I ended up going with her cousin, a Model 66-2.

  • Pizza Bob

    I find it humorous that you feel that you have “mastered” the revolver after shooting a few groups, at 10 yards, from a rest, single action. I was in my 50’s before I started shooting a revolver seriously (not well, but seriously). Come back to me after you have participated in one of the practical gun games with a revolver, shooting it DAO – and even after that it may take decades, if ever, to “master”. Glad you enjoyed your time with your wheelgun. Yours is/was subject to a recall. If there is no “M” stamped adjacent to the model & Serial number (on the frame under the yoke) contact S&W.

    • Don Ward

      Begins to type…

      • Swarf

        You should.

    • Just mastered its single action, I’m not claiming to be Jerry Miculek, so don’t get excited.

  • LG

    The best were the original “Combat Magnums” finished by REX during the 1950’s and early 60’s. They are things of beauty and function which I would put up against any pony gun.

  • Giolli Joker

    Beautiful revolver.
    Personally I would look for a 586, but surely the stainless steel model have more chances to have kept their beauty.
    One year older than you?

    • Nope, it’s seven years older. I’m still pretty young.

      • Giolli Joker

        Good for you!
        Your email address is misleading, then. 😉

  • STW

    Our house gun is 686-4.

  • datimes

    There was a 5 year period when I carried a nickel 4″ model 19, target trigger and sights, and a slick trigger pull. Traded it for a 6″ Python that I carried for another 15. Then I was issued a Glock. I wish I hadn’t traded away the model 19.

    • LG

      The “Combat Magnum” is a true jewel.

  • DaveP

    The 686 was Smith’s answer to the Security Six: a .357 lighter than the 27, stronger than the 19, and cheaper to produce than either one. If it was the answer to the Python it would’ve cost twice as much (most of which would have gone to the advertising campaign ).

    • Sunshine_Shooter

      Lol, you’re probably right!

    • Art out West

      A couple months ago, I picked up a 4″ SS Security Six (from 1982). It is my first “duty type” .357, and I absolutely love it. I paid $335 for it, which is less than I’ve seen similar condition (very good) S&W revolvers going for. I’m not trying to start a Ruger vs Smith fight or anything. I love them both, owning 2 Smiths and 3 Rugers.

    • FWIW: You can pretty much interchange Colt Python, S&W L-Frame, and Ruger GP100 speedloaders. The Ruger DA “Six” series cylinders were slightly smaller than the former, but still slightly larger than the S&W K-frames.

  • Vizzini

    Why is the “no dash” considered special? I’ve got a no dash 681, but it is an “M”, which I recall was added as a designator to those that had a fix for a defect common to all early pistols in the series.

  • iksnilol

    Classy piece. Would love to try something like that one day.

  • Dan Atwater

    Love my 586-3, it’s got the smoothest DA trigger out of any revolver I’ve ever felt–including all the Pythons.

  • disqus_sgMcKYCZZ3

    Great gun. I bought a 1978 Dan Wesson 15 when it came time to get a 6 shooter. Lots of personality.

  • Bill

    “Once upon a time, of course, wheelguns like these were considered state-of-the-art fighting guns, but now those days are over. However, a Glock may be the better business partner.”

    A nearly identical 686 was my first-through-the-door gun when I was doing more high speed stuff in my younger years. A number of us used 6-inch revolvers as entry and take-down guns, while still carrying 4-inch versions in uniform. It’s still a state of the art fighting gun if you define state of the art as being able to reliably deliver a vicious payload on target. I’m not sure that a GLOCK is better; just different. I wouldn’t hesitate to carry one today.

    I’m also not certain that it was considered a Python analogue, as the Pythons was already pricey and scarce when the L-Frames were introduced. They were designed to hold up to a steady diet of Magnum loads that would batter K-frames without carrying the weight penalty of the N-Frames. Colts, and I love them, are arguably harder to keep in time and tune than Smiths, so for working guns the Smith was a more practicable choice, albeit not nearly as styling’ as the Python.

    • Klaus Von Schmitto

      I always thought that the L frame guns were more comparable to the Colt Trooper than a Python.

  • Joshua

    I never liked the look of the underlug, what I’d love to find myself is an old style colt with no lug like the old police positive revolvers. Ideally in .44 Mag though. I don’t think they exist though.
    closest I’ve seen in an old Colt new service in .455

  • James Young

    These are so nice, though I’d prefer the seven rounder 686. I also love the Ruger GP100.

    Revolvers are great.

  • Edeco

    I got a 686 as a rental one time. Twas fun. If they’d do a 6-inch 357 K-frame I’d be on it. They have a 4.25 incher now, but that’s not enough hose for me.

  • William Taylor

    I was lucky enough to find a beautiful condition, no dash Smith 586 about year ago, also with a 6″ barrel. The 586 was the blued version of the stainless 686. I’m even luckier, having also stumbled on a 2007-ish Ruger GP-100 with the (very rare?) half underlug 6″ barrel, also a blued gun. This Ruger was new old stock, and came to me about two years ago, NIB, even tho it was made ca 2007. These two together are my favorite gun, my “twins”.

  • Brian Fulmer

    I lucked into a 686 M 4″ on consignment last year. As a not-loved but not shot a lot pistol, likely with multiple previous owners, it is tight as a drum and a hoot to shoot. My wife took over my stainless Security Six 4″ for ranch duty, so an L-Frame is the appropriate replacement. The Ruger was clearly the impetus for the 586/686, being VERY durable and making the K-Frame magnums look a bit puny by comparison. The 686 has a gorgeous trigger and looks fantastic, but it is “old” engineering vs “new” engineering in the Security Six – an interesting contrast and context. Neat write up, glad to hear you youngsters appreciate something from the Old School!

  • GetFactsBeforeFormingOpinions

    My very first handgun that I purchased on my own was a 686. It was back when you could still buy police trade-ins at a cheap price – departments were switching to wonder-nines. I paid $250 back in 1987 for a used Illinois State Police 686. It had the original and Pachmyer grips and was in excellent condition. I learned a LOT with that pistol, and one of my biggest regrets is selling it. (Lesson – don’t sell your guns!)

  • maodeedee

    My younger brother bought a six inch 586 (blued) in the 1980’s and it was the most accurate handgun I have ever fired, including an old friend’s four inch Colt Python and my own six inch Model 28 Highway patrolman.
    I wouldn’t mind owning a six inch 686 plus but I’d want it to be an older model with the firing pin on the hammer and no idiotic safety lock.

  • Kevin Porter

    I have a 6″ 686+. Got it 2yrs ago w/ the lock. No big deal. I don’t use it. Extremely accurate piece and I love to shoot it. Had a Mod #19-3, 6″ , target hammer, trigger and some really lite springs from S&W. Use to fire Super Vels, talk about hot loads. I’ve had a conceal carry for 40 yrs and these aren’t the easiest to conceal. Peace of mind is knowing they won’t let you down.