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Rising Phoenix: Smith & Wesson Model 586 Review

by Joel Hutchcroft   |  October 17th, 2012 31

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Like a phoenix out of the ashes, Smith & Wesson’s classic, double-action, blued-steel, full-lug-barreled, .357 Magnum L-Frame Model 586 revolver has risen. Okay, maybe that’s a bit overdramatic, but I for one am thrilled that the 586 is back. Except for my .22 LR S&W K-Frame Model 17, which was my first-ever brand-new gun and has lived with me for 35 years, the Model 586 is my all-time favorite Smith & Wesson. Why? Because it’s made to last, it’s extremely accurate, and it’s a real pleasure to shoot.

Built for Hard Use
The original Model 586 with adjustable sights was brought to market in 1981, and S&W introduced several new features with it. It and the Model 581 (fixed sights) were the first L-Frame guns, and they were specifically designed to stand up to the hard effects of shooting full-power .357 Magnum rounds. Back then the high-pressure 125-grain .357s were some of the hottest ammo available, and so S&W beefed up the frame, the forcing cone, and the cylinder with the L-Frame. The models were given a full-length barrel underlug to add weight to help counter the sharp recoil and abrupt muzzle jump of those magnum loads. The 581 and 586 immediately appealed to law enforcement (remember that this was before the era of the “wonder nines”), and they spawned the stainless-steel S&W Models 681 and 686, which were announced to the public at the same time.

I purchased my first 586 in 1981; it was a 4-incher. I was working for an S&W distributor back then, and I bought the first one I could get my hands on. I literally fell in love with that gun. I shot the snot out of it and was so confident in it that I even used it once to guard a shipment of firearms that we picked up from a warehouse outside of Chicago and transported back to our facilities. The original 586 was discontinued in 1999, but the stainless 686 survived—and thrived.

The new-for-2012 Model 586 is available with 4- or 6-inch barrel, and it incorporates many of the fine features of the original 586, plus it has some differences. First, it has the reinforced forcing cone, beefed-up frame, and noncounterbored cylinder like the original. It also has the full-length barrel underlug and the adjustable white-outline rear and red-ramp front sights like the original. And it has the square-butt grip frame like the original. The trigger is smooth like on the original, but at a measured 0.342 inch, my sample is slightly wider than the original 0.312-inch-wide trigger.

Unlike the original, the new 586 utilizes S&W’s keyed internal lock mechanism that prevents hammer and trigger motion, it has S&W’s updated cylinder release button (a.k.a. “thumbpiece”), and it now uses a frame-mounted firing pin. The original 586 had a hammer nose firing pin. The wood stocks on the new model are visually slightly different than the original target-style stocks that my old 586 wore, but they feel very similar.

Superbly Accurate
My original 586 was extremely accurate. I could shoot it better than any other handgun I owned, and with .38 Special 148-grain wadcutter factory ammo, it produced five-shot, 25-yard groups that averaged between 1.00 and 1.25 inches. I’m pleased to report that the 2012 Model 586 is every bit as accurate. With Black Hills 148-grain Match .38s, the 4-inch sample 586 averaged exactly 1.00 inch for five-shot groups at 25 yards. That was with the revolver mounted in a Ransom Rest. The gun’s most accurate .357 Magnum load was CorBon’s 125-grain JHP, which averaged 1.50 inches for five-shot groups.

I also fired 12-shot groups with each of the 10 different factory loads. That’s two full cylinders of ammo into a single group, and the results were telling. Generally, when you shoot all charge holes in a revolver’s cylinder, you’ll likely find one or two that aren’t quite as consistent as the others, causing groups to open up, sometimes quite a lot. Not so with this new Model 586. With three of the 10 loads fired, the 12-shot groups were the same as the five-shot group average. Four out of the remaining seven loads were a mere quarter-inch larger for the 12 shots. One of the other three loads went up a full inch, and the other two grew by 1.50 and 1.75 inches. I think that shows how consistent this gun is.

Fun to Shoot
Part of my fondness for my original 586 was the sheer joy I experienced every time I shot it. Plinking, shooting for group, and even packing it on the trail gave me hours and hours of shooting fun. I generally could hit whatever I shot at with that old sixgun, and it actually felt like a natural extension of my shooting arm. The new Model 586 feels and handles almost exactly the same in my hands.

Obviously, I am biased toward the 586, but there’s just something about blued steel and wood stocks that appeals to me. The stainless 686 with rubber grips is obviously a well-received revolver, given its longevity and the number of available SKUs, but to me the blued 586 with wood grips is the only way to go. S&W originally called the L-Frame revolver the “Distinguished Combat Magnum,” and to my way of thinking the blued-steel, wood-stocked version definitely fits that moniker, with emphasis on the word “distinguished.” I’m glad a lot more shooters will once again be able to experience this classic Magnum in its original form.

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  • Rick Newby

    I also own a Model 586 4'" that I purchased in 1990. I love the weapon. It still has the original Rosewood grips and is very accurate. I will keep it for ever. Thanks Smith& Wesson.

  • T.D. Honeycutt

    What does snot look like coming out of the barrel of a .357 Magnum?

    • Larry

      You are not funny, guy.

  • David E La Faber

    Owned two 586's,and one 686>Excellent handguns-All 3=6-inches;)Very accurate! Great to see a Classic brought back.

  • Buck Ofama

    When is S&W going to drop the stupid internal lock from it's revolvers? Nobody wants this feature! If nothing else, make it an "option" for the retarded states like MA, CA, IL, MD, NJ, etc…..The rest of us DON'T WANT THEM! I will no longer buy any new S&W revolvers if they have the locks.

    • Tanstaafl2

      I hate em too, but making both internal lock and non internal lock equipped versions of each handgun would be a manufacturing and distribution pain in the butt – they're here to stay

  • John R

    always wondered why S&W never came out with a blackened stainless steel version. Frankly besides the look, I'd still prefer the convenience of stainless with better rust resistance and no bluing finish to worry over scratching. With stainless you can just buff the scratches away which is probably why the 586 went away the first time

    • Jack D

      It seems to me that, way back when (early 80s), S&W offered a blued stainles or blued alloy handgun. I seem to remember that it was a Mod 586, but my recolection may be askew.,

  • Tanstaafl2

    Selling my 686 was one of the dumbest things I've ever done.

    • Al Mumit

      No, it really wasn't. There were many of the 686's with a defect. The vacant area around the firing pin was far too large, causing a sort of impact weld when firing hot loads. Mine would lock up tighter than a bank on a holiday when I tried to fire ANY .357 ammo. S&W did a recall and fixed (supposedly) this problem, but I had already let her go in favor of a Colt Officer's model.

  • Peter

    Oftentimes, I find myself introducing friends and acquaintences to the sport of shooting. At the range, I start them off with a .22LR then continually increase the caliber up to the .357 magnum. The different manufacturers and models range from Beretta 21A, Colt Detective Special, Browning Hi-Power, Sig Sauer 228, ParaOrdnance P13-45, Kimber Pro Carry II and a 6-inch S&W 586. Out of all those very nice pistols, everyone has picked the S&W 586 as their favorite, with the Browning Hi-Power (1970's vintage) coming in second. Says a lot.

  • Matt G

    I bought one used from a shop a couple years ago. Had some tuning done and competition grips put on. Great revolver, very accurate, but its a bit worn out cosmetically. Seeing the new ones makes me want it. The blueing is amazing and the gun just feels good.

  • Jeff

    Won't buy it. Internal lock nonsense.

  • DangerousDave

    won't have one with the Internal Lock. get a nice vintage police turn in for 1/2 the price.

  • Rob1911a1

    My only complaint, one not mentioned in this article, is the use of MIM (Metal injected molded) parts in the interior of S & W revolvers is recent years. Pesonnally, I consider these parts 'substandard'; of course, others may disagree, but I should add that some of America's premier revolver smiths are also less than impresssed with these parts.

  • Paul

    If they put a ventilated rib on this thing – like a Python – it would be irresistible!

  • Dale

    A nice looking gun ! However, the extra weight for a carry gun always put me off. I like the old "peace Officer's Dream", the model 19 and have carried a 4inch since the 1980's. Used 125 JHP for self defense and 158 JHP Hydrashoks for Deer hunting. Has never let me down.

  • Preston

    The first firearm I ever purchased was a S&W 686 back in the early 80s. It was beautiful and shot well, but the fit was not very good and I could never convince myself to love it. Since then I've bought Ruger revolvers and have never considered another Smith.

  • James

    I used to shoot my gun club's 4" M586 up until handguns were banned here in the UK. Excellent gun, with a butter-smooth DA action. Those who are whining about the internal lock should take a reality check – at least you are still allowed to own one.

    • Kevin

      Me too James… I bought one of the first ones bought into the UK in 1981 i believe (Matlock Gunshop as used to be). Nearly cried when I had it stolen from me by the bastard governments henchmen. Moved to New Zealand a few years ago, to get my sport back… and guess what, I WILL be getting one of these, right after my Ruger Super Redhawk .44 arrives in a week or so. Even bought myself a nice Remington AR15 two weeks ago… lifes good again. Just need a couple of .45's and a King cobra 357 to my collection, and it will be like I never left the game. Jump on a plane and get y'self out here mate. Good weather, lots of open space, to many gun clubs to shake a stick at. And, all the hunting you could ever want, and dont need to pay anyone!

    • Master of None

      Handguns haven’t been banned in all of the UK, James. Here in the Northern Ireland part of it I have just added a four inch 586 to my collection and fired off a few hundred rounds a couple of nights ago. Love it to bits. Now to get a 625. Cheers

  • Ralph

    I have a 686, and like the gun, but prefer my 66.

  • jusman

    how much?

  • Alfonso

    I bought a 586 with a 4 inch barrel in 1992 while I was stationed in Miami with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and used it as my carry gun. I still have and it still shoots great. I owned a Colt Python with a 4 inch barrel and i have to say that the 586 had a much better double action trigger. In single action both guns were the same. I like it better than the Python. I also own a 657-2 41 Mag and a 29-3 44 Mag. They all have great wide target triggers and actions that you can stack when pulling the trigger in double action which is something typical of the Smith & Wesson actions and I could not find in other revolvers brands. It feels like a double stage trigger.

  • Rob

    The 586 was the first hand gun I ever purchased back in the mid-1980's. For a person on a limited budget it is a great gun to own. You can target shoot with the .38 reloads, less experienced shooters can use regular .38s for self defense and experienced hand-gunners can use the full power .357s. I think folks who don't shoot regularily should avoid the automatics and stick to a revolver. I have a six inch barrel so I really don't carry it for defense, but I have hunted with it. It is a fine weapon that's easy to learn to shoot well, my daughters can shoot it like pros! Comparing the 586 to one of these plastic automatics is like comparing a Rolex to a cheap chinese digital watch.

  • Rob

    I just installed a Rosewood Laminate grip from Hogue #10501 on my 586. The new grip fits my hand perfectly and looks awesome. With shipping the grip cost me 94 bucks. The 586 only cost about $250 when I bought it so I'm not so sure this was a cost-effective purchase. Oh well, I like it!

  • mick

    I bought a very well used 6" 586 in 1986. It has seen an incredible amount of ammo through it, mostly 38s, still shoots like a dream. I want on in 4" .

  • Mike

    I bought my 586 in 1994. It is a 1987 model ( I called S&W . thety verified the SN ). This is my only revolver among several autoloaders including PPK/s, Browning Hi Power, Glock 19, IAI Javelina – and for me, the S&W is the Most Fun to shoot out of all the others. And, in parallel with the author of this article, I am consistently more accurate with the 586 than with any of my other handguns.

    The 586 made me realize that despite the numeral disparity favoring autoloaders in my collection; at heart, I'm a Revolver Man. This is hard to explain, but you either know what I mean, or you'd never understand.

    Regards,

    Mike

    -.

  • Obviousfakename

    Owned a 6″ 586 since 1984. Broke my buddy’s heart when I consistently outshot him and his 6″ Python than he paid a few hundred bucks more for.

    I will never buy a S&W revolver with the lock, though. It’s hard to believe that after all these years, they can’t figure this out. It doesn’t matter how good their guns are, that little hole in the side is a giant middle finger upraised to the gun shopper.

  • thebeamanater

    I completely agree with Mike. growing up my favorite gun was my dad’s 357. It was powerful yet fun to shoot and the weight of the gun absorbs the recoil and makes it easier to control. no other pistol has stolen my heart like my dad’s old revolver, so I bought one to keep loaded at home. it’s a horrible but interesting thought that when my dad dies I get to inherit his guns, which also includes my all time favorite rifle, my grandfathers m1 garand. same story, I’ve yet to find a rifle I love more.

  • SPRDave175

    My 1981 6″ 586 has the smoothest double action trigger pull of all my S&Ws (19, 66, 686, 625 & 629 Classic Hunter. It is a true gem that I love to shoot.

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