October 17, 2012
By Joel J Hutchcroft
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.
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.