Why test revolvers? They will never be as popular as they once were, but total sales are far higher than when revolvers were in their heyday in the 1970s. Reliability and accuracy are hallmarks of the revolver, and there is no more proven cartridge for personal defense than the 357 Magnum. The revolvers tested are versatile, durable, accurate, and powerful. We pitted a new Colt Python against similar long-barrel competitors, the Smith & Wesson 686 Plus and Ruger GP100. Also, to see how far the wheelgun’s development has gone in the last couple of decades, we threw in a classic Colt revolver, the Peacekeeper.
Long-barrel revolvers are useful for hunting small to medium game, for competition, target shooting, protection against wild animals, and home defense. In a day when new technology is rendered obsolete quickly, revolvers rely on proven technology that has changed little in dozens of years. As far as chambering, the 357 Magnum is a versatile cartridge, and, of course, 38 Special ammunition may also be used in these wheelguns for pleasant practice and smaller game. If you handload, the 357 cartridge is economical. Fast-stepping 110- to 140-grain defense loads are well suited to stopping an attack, while 160- to 180-grain loads are useful for hunting. There is no difficulty in operating the revolver with light loads or heavy loads because the revolver is manually operated, although it may be run quickly, if needed. Revolvers are so reliable that the standard malfunction drill for them (in case of a bad round) is to simply pull the trigger again to get access to a fresh cartridge. Ammunition is presently difficult to come by in some calibers, but 38 Special and 357 loads have not been hit as hard. However, high-quality pistols are in short supply, but revolvers seem less affected. Some of the wheelguns tested, the Python in particular, may represent a kind of financial irresponsibility because they are quite pricey, but then its performance is excellent.
Because we are interested in accuracy in the combat sense as well as bench accuracy, we chose ammunition carefully. Ammunition has a tremendous influence on accuracy. SAAMI-regulated ammunition ensures compatibility, performance, and accuracy. For combat shooting, we chose the Black Hills Ammunition 158-grain lead load, a cowboy-action load at an average of 805 fps. It is loaded in the Magnum case but operates at 38 Special pressure. We also used the Federal Train and Protect 125-grain JHP at 1470 to 1520 fps and the 1280-fps Hornady 158-grain XTP. We also used a single 38 Special load, the Black Hills Ammunition 148-grain wadcutter. This 38 Special load averaged 750 fps in velocity.
Prior to testing, we checked the barrel cylinder gap of each revolver. The Python was tightest at 0.006 inch, and the Smith & Wesson was almost undetectably larger. The Ruger was 0.007 inch, and the older Colt measured 0.008 inch. We have tested revolvers with a barrel-cylinder gap as large as 0.016 inch, and usually, velocity is linear to the barrel-cylinder gap. A 125-grain load may lose 180 fps as a result of a larger gap, a 158-grain load may lose 160 fps. As it turned out, the revolvers were fairly uniform in velocity.
We liked all of the revolvers, but there was one obvious Best Buy, which we will get to presently.
Gun Tests Grade: A-
We located this 6-inch-barrel Peacekeeper in a pawn shop. The revolver shows very little wear and seems in good condition. The Colt MK V was introduced in 1986 as an improvement over the Colt MK III Trooper series. The MK III featured an updated action and was much less expensive to manufacture than previous Colt revolvers. The MK III used sintered parts, and in 1969, this was a big demerit in sales. The MK V series we tested uses cast steel in the lockwork. The action is a transfer-bar type and is arguably Colt’s only true short-action revolver. The barrel features an integral rib slightly resembling the Python. The rear sight is fully adjustable. The front post is secured by a solid pin, so for most purposes, it is not removable. There is a red insert in the post.
|Action Type||Double-action revolver|
|Overall Length||11.3 in.|
|Overall Height||5.5 in.|
|Minimum Width||1.5 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||38.0 oz.|
|Weight Loaded||40.0 oz.|
|Front Strap Height||2.4 in.|
|Rear Strap Height||4.0 in.|
|Grip Thickness||1.2 in.|
|Grip Circumference||5.0 in.|
|Front Sight||Fixed post|
|Rear Sight||Adjustable notch in blade|
|Sight Radius||7.5 in.|
|Trigger Pull Weight Single Action||4.4 lbs.|
|Trigger Pull Weight Double Action||14.0 lbs.|
|Trigger Span Single Action||3.25 in.|
|Trigger Span DA||3.75 in.|
The pistol left the factory with a set of Pachmayr grips with the Colt emblem, common among Colt revolvers of the era. We like these grips. While harder or stiffer than the other grips, they offer excellent control. The action is the heaviest tested, but it was short and fast. The cylinder chambers are not recessed individually, but the cylinder features a ring around the case heads. The revolver is comparable in every way to the Colt Trooper of the day, as far as performance.
The main feature setting the Peacekeeper apart from the Trooper is the finish. There are conflicting reports on this from authorities, and there may be some truth in each supposition. Colt suffered a series of strikes in the 1987 era. Colt did not have trained polishers and refinishers on hand, and the Peacekeeper was turned out with a flat-matte finish. The other authority states that the Peacekeeper was simply a less expensive revolver meant to compete with Ruger and Smith & Wesson on the price point. There were other matte-finished Colt revolvers. Some appear not to have been polished before finishing. The Peacekeeper here features a finish that’s evenly applied.
The action of the Peacekeeper feels different than the other revolvers. It is tight and short. For those who learn to control the action, the Colt is controllable in combat fire. The Peacekeeper and the Ruger GP100 turned in similar performance on the combat range. Absolute accuracy is good, but not as good as the other revolvers. The Peacekeeper is less common than other Colt revolvers of the era, but it doesn’t command the elevated price of the other vintage Colts.
Our Team Said: In the end, we don’t think the Peacekeeper is a good buy, so we won’t send you out to find one. It isn’t a dog by any means, and it seems reliable and accurate, but for the same money a better new revolver may be purchased. Ours was not as accurate compared to the other revolvers. We did not rate the Peacekeeper down for its finish because it was originally intended as a less expensive option. Still, modern matte-finish revolvers have a much nicer finish application.
357 Magnum and 38 Special Range Data (25 Yards)All groups were fired from a Bullshooters gun rest from a benchrest firing position. The groups were fired in strings of three five-shot groups for each load in each handgun. Velocity was tested by firing over a RCBS Ammomaster Chrono-graph.
|357 Magnum Hornady 158-grain XTP 90562||Colt Peacekeeper||Smith & Wesson Model 686 Plus||Ruger GP100||Colt Python|
|Average Velocity||1239 fps||1280 fps||1267 fps||1275 fps|
|Energy||539 ft.-lbs.||575 ft.-lbs.||563 ft.-lbs.||570 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||2.3 in.||1.65 in.||1.6 in.||1.8 in.|
|Average Group||2.8 in.||2.0 in.||2.1 in||2.2 in.|
|357 Magnum Federal 125-grain JHP||Colt Peacekeeper||Smith & Wesson Model 686 Plus||Ruger GP100||Colt Python|
|Average Velocity||1472 fps||1455 fps||1490 fps||1502 fps|
|Energy||601 ft.-lbs.||588 ft.-lbs.||616 ft.-lbs.||626 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||2.5 in.||1.8 in.||2.0 in.||1.5 in.|
|Average Group||3.0 in.||2.4 in.||2.7 in.||1.8 in.|
|38 Special Black Hills 148-grain Wadcutter||Colt Peacekeeper||Smith & Wesson Model 686 Plus||Ruger GP100||Colt Python|
|Average Velocity||770 fps||739 fps||756 fps||750 fps|
|Energy||195 ft.-lbs.||179 ft.-lbs.||188 ft.-lbs.||185 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||2.5 in.||1.76 in.||2.1 in.||1.5 in.|
|Average Group||3.3 in.||2.3 in.||2.5 in.||1.8 in.|
Value Guide: 38 Special/357 Magnum Revolver Rankings
|Taurus Tracker 692 38 Sp./ 357 Mag./9mm Luger, $487||Oct. 2021||A||Our Pick. Excellent versatility. Other revolvers do not have this versatility or offer seven shots.|
|Taurus Defender 856 2-85639NS 38 Sp. +P, $306||Oct. 2021||A-||Best Buy. Offers six-shot capacity, a 3-inch heavy barrel, and a tritium-insert front-sight.|
|EAA Weihrauch Windicator 741566103612 357 Mag., $394||Oct. 2021||A||Need a house gun or truck gun to be fired occasionally, but which must always come up shooting? This is it.|
|Rock Island Armory M206 51283 38 Sp., $240||Oct. 2021||B||We disliked the too-long hammer spur, and the wooden concealment grips are not well designed.|
|Taurus 856 Defender Ultra-Lite 2-85639ULNS 38 Sp. +P, $405||Aug. 2021||A||Offered good accuracy and is ultra-lightweight. The DA trigger pull was smooth but heavy, with a bit of stacking.|
|Taurus Tracker 692 2-692039 9mm/38 Sp./357 Mag., $705||Mar. 2021||A-||Offers a lot of versatility with the extra cylinder assembly. The price is reasonable.|
|Colt Python (2020) PYTHON-SP4WTS 357 Magnum, $1300||Jan. 2021||A||Pricey, but the new Python is a winner, even if it isn’t an exact clone of the original Python.|
|Colt Python (2020) PYTHON-SP6WTS 357 Magnum, $1800||Jan. 2021||A||We really liked the trigger and found the revolver to be quite accurate.|
|Colt Python (1980) 357 Magnum, ~$2500||Jan. 2021||A||The trigger is superb and the royal blue finish is brilliant. The aftermarket Hogue grip helps reduce felt recoil.|
|Colt Python (1964) 357 Magnum, $1800||Jan. 2021||A-||It provided good performance and accuracy. This is a shooter and perhaps is a candidate for restoration.|
|Colt King Cobra KCOBRA-SB3BB 357 Magnum, $838||2020-05-01 00:00:00||A||The revolver offers good performance with the 3-inch barrel and is well made. Carrying it takes a bit of effort.|
|Rock Island Armory AL3.0 357 Magnum, $504||2020-05-01 00:00:00||A-||There was a lot to like, price, accuracy, shooting comfort. Not a beautiful revolver for sure.|
|Rossi Model 971 VRC 357 Magnum, $295||2020-05-01 00:00:00||B||A great trigger, and the porting helped keep us on target. But the accuracy was less than stellar.|
|Taurus Model 66 2-660041 357 Magnum, $371||Oct. 2019||A||Well suited to personal defense and home defense. Good field gun for protection against animals.|
|Taurus 608 Matte Stainless 2-608049 357 Magnum, $548||Oct. 2019||A-||It is a big gun. Just the same, the size and eight-shot capacity made it ideal for home defense.|
|Smith & Wesson M27 Classic 150339 357 Magnum, $909||Oct. 2019||B-||The grips are not the best design for handling magnum loads. Trigger action was the big problem, very heavy.|
|Ruger GP100 KGP-141357 Magnum, $500||Sep. 2018||A||The stainless-steel GP100 performs in all categories: accuracy, smoothness, control, and velocity.|
|S&W M66 Combat Magnum 357 Magnum, , $420||Sep. 2018||B+||Stainless steel, smooth action, and a round-butt configuration seldom seen on the Combat Magnum.|
|Ruger GP100 GP-141 357 Magnum, $480||Sep. 2018||B+||The blued GP100 doesn’t perform on par with the stainless, and the stainless is easier to maintain.|
|S&W M19 Combat Magnum 357 Magnum, $800||Sep. 2018||B||Came with a display case and a knife with matching serial number — pretty neat, but also pricey.|
|Taurus Model 66 357 Magnum, $325||Sep. 2018||B-||The barrel length of 6 inches did not generate greater velocity. Current-production version is 2-660069.|