Rock Island Armory Model 206 51283 38 Special

Overall, the 206 has good features. We disliked the too-long hammer spur, and the wooden concealment grips are not well designed. The revolver is worth its modest price.

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Revolvers remain popular for personal defense for many reasons. The revolver is simple to load, fire, and handle. A revolver will function with light loads and heavy loads without changing the springs. A revolver will come up firing, even after long periods of storage because the springs are at rest when the revolver is loaded. A revolver can feature a smooth double-action trigger that helps fight flinch. We wanted to test revolvers in 38 Special for home defense and economy. We elected to test two large-frame and two small-frame revolvers that would fire easy-on-the-hands 38 Specials. As a bonus, some would also chamber 357 Magnums and, surprisingly, one accepted 9mm Luger rounds. Our test guns were as follows:

European American Armory’s (EAA) Windicator 770133 357 Magnum, $394, is a European idea of a revolver that comes off well. The cylinder features six chambers bored for the 357 Magnum. The barrel is marked 38 Special and just below, 357 Magnum. The revolver is a conventional double action with single-action capability. The cylinder is opened for loading and unloading by pressing a cylinder latch forward. Three of the four revolvers in the test operate in this manner.

Loading, ejection, and firing were trouble free with the Rock 206. It features a heavy barrel, hand-filling grips, and good sights.

Rock Island Armory’s Model 206 51283 38 Special, $240, is a small-frame revolver that comes in a couple of variations. The blued M206 Spurless 51280 and matte-nickel-finished Spurless M206 lack the exterior hammer of our test gun, but all three have channel frame-cut rear sights. Similar to our test gun, the M200 51261 is likewise chambered in 38 Special but has a 4-inch semi-shrouded barrel. When you put together the price of the EAA Windicator and the Rock Island M206, you have about the price of a new Glock. That isn’t bad economy having two 38 Special handguns at the ready for less than $600.

The Taurus Defender 856 2-85639NS 38 Special +P, $306, is a small-frame 38 Special +P revolver with a six-shot cylinder and a 3-inch barrel. Our test handgun was made of matte stainless steel with Hogue grips, but the line is available in several versions. The Ultra-Lite models come in stainless-steel (2-85639ULNS) and black-anodized (2-85631ULNS) finishes. Three other steel-frame revolvers are the matte black with Hogue grips (2-85631NS), matte-stainless with VZ Grips’ panels (2-85635NSVZ), and tungsten Cerakote with Altamont wood grips (2-8563CNS).

The Taurus Tracker 692 Multi-Caliber Revolver 2692031, $487, chambers and fires 38 Special, 357 Magnum, and 9mm Luger rounds. We should note that stainless-steel versions of our test gun were available for $543. The matte-finish-blued revolver is more in keeping with our economy theme. Like in the other revolvers, the Tracker 692 is a double-action mechanism with a swing-out cylinder, exposed hammer, and single-action capability. The 692 features a seven-shot cylinder. This is a nice upgrade in a relatively compact revolver. The grips, barrel, and frame are slightly smaller than the popular Taurus 66, another seven-shot 357 Magnum.

During the test, we fired four 38 Special loads in all four revolvers. These included a handload with the MattsBullets.com 178-grain SWC loaded to 850 fps average. This is a +P load that is well suited to outdoors use and practice for those using +P personal defense loads. We fired 50 rounds in offhand combat firing, including firing at multiple targets as quickly as possible. While economical, this load also tested recoil control and comfort better than a light target load. In accuracy testing off the benchrest, we used three loads. These included the Remington 158-grain SWCHP +P, the Black Hills Ammunition 158-grain RNL Cowboy Load, and the Black Hills Ammunition 125-grain +P.

For bench accuracy testing and velocity compilations, we also tested a full-power 357 Magnum loading in the Tracker and Windicator revolvers, the Black Hills Ammunition 125-grain JHP. For combat shooting, we added the Remington HTP 357 Magnum 125-grain SJHP, a milder 1200 fps Magnum load, to give breadth to the test in the two Magnums. Also in the Tracker, we fired a 9mm load, the Remington HTP 124-grain JHP, off the bench. We fired 20 of each of the magnum loads in each revolver and 20 9mm loads in the Taurus 692.

The revolvers tested were all reliable with no obvious defects. For home defense, all were accurate enough. Here’s what we thought about these handguns in more detail.

Gun Tests Grade: B

$240

The M206 is a chunky revolver at 25 ounces. The six-shot double-action has a swing-out cylinder, and its cylinder latch operates differently from the other three revolvers. This latch is pulled to the rear rather than pressed forward to open the cylinder. We found no difference in speed between the two types.

ActionDouble- or single-action revolver
Overall Length6.75 in.
Overall Height4.1 in.
Maximum Width (Cylinder)1.4 in.
Weight Unloaded25.0 oz.
Weight Loaded28.0 oz.
Barrel2.15 in. long, Parkerized steel, full shroud
Capacity6
FrameParkerized steel
CylinderParkerized steel
Front Strap Height2.0 in.
Rear Strap Height3.6 in.
GripsPlastic, finger groove; wood, checkered
Grip Thickness (Max)1.25 in.
Grip Circumference (Max)5.25 in.
Front SightPost, integral with barrel
Rear SightTopstrap groove
Sight Radius3.8 in.
Trigger Pull Weight Single Action5.5 lbs.
Trigger Pull Weight Double Action11.5 lbs.
Trigger Span Single Action3.0 in.
Trigger Span Double Action3.6 in.
SafetyNone
WarrantyLimited lifetime
Telephone(775) 537-14444
WebsiteArmscor.com
The Rock Island 206 isn’t exactly a Colt Detective Special clone. It will not fit this Galco Hornet holster.

When the Smith & Wesson–type revolvers have the cylinder open, the action cannot be operated unless you press the cylinder latch. The Model 206 may be dry-fired with the cylinder open. No advantage, just different. The revolver in appearance, weight, and heft appears to be a clone of the Colt Detective Special. Well, it is, and it isn’t. The cylinder latch operates like a Colt and the cylinder rotates to the right; the other revolvers rotate to the left. But the 206 revolver uses a coil spring to power the hammer rather than a Colt-type V spring. For most shooters, a coil spring and a trigger reset spring are simpler to use than the Colt action. A shooter may tie up an original or modern Colt by not allowing the trigger to reset properly. We will stop short of saying the design is an improvement over the Colt action, but it works well enough. Dimensionally, the Rock Island revolver is larger than the Colt Police Positive/Detective Special, so it will not fit Detective Special holsters.

The hammer spring is a modern coil spring. The Rock Island 38’s finish was a bit worn on the cylinder after the test.

The finish is matte blue. There were no tool marks or grinder marks we could see until we removed the grips, reasonable in this price range. The hammer is serrated, and there are grooves on the cylinder latch. The trigger face is smooth, as it should be. The action is smooth enough in double-action fire. The single-action trigger is heavier than we like at 5.75 pounds — but average for an economy revolver — and lighter than the Taurus Defender. The sights are broad, with a well-designed sight picture. However, the front post is almost invisible in most shooting scenarios. It simply fades out. We added a drop of nail polish to improve visibility, the only modification of any type during the test.

Armscor designed the sights to be broad and easily picked up at speed.

The 850-fps 38 Special handload that was docile in the magnum revolvers generated more noticeable recoil in the 206. That’s fine; a defense-oriented revolver should be loaded with +P loads. However, the M206 isn’t marked for +P loads on the gun, and the owner’s manual was unclear on the point. We contacted the factory to ask if the M206 would handle +P pressure, and they said it would. Specifically, a chat with customer service said, “All our firearms are +P ready, but please use only when necessary. +P ammo may wear your gun faster.” Rock Island should make the gun’s +P rating explicit, we think.

We did not like the small wooden grips. They simply are too small, allowing the hammer spur to bump into the hand (arrow).

Once we had the front sight painted, the revolver printed 2 inches high with the 158-grain load, but it was dead on with the 125-grain +P. The revolver is controllable for the size, and centered hits in the X ring. At 5 yards, it was comparable to the larger handguns. The difference really showed up at 10 yards and beyond. The revolver is comparable in some ways to Colt revolvers we have fired, but the 206 was not as smooth.

A problem arose with the long hammer spur. At times, with some raters, the hammer spur contacted the shooting hand. We adjusted our grip, and it did not cause a further problem. It is simply something you should know about. We liked the recoil-absorbing design of the large grips. They are a finger-groove design and are quite hard. The revolver is supplied with a much smaller set of grips for concealed carry or small hands. With the small wooden grips, we had a serious problem with the hammer spur. When the raters used the small grip, the hammer spur tended to contact the firing hand and tie the action up. We think the small grips would be okay with the spurless hammer version we mention above, but not the hammer-spur version. The revolver kicks more with the small grips, and as a result, bullet impacts land another 0.75- to 1.0-inch high at 10 yards. During the firing test, there were no failures to fire or cycle. During the accuracy stage, the RIA 206 was the least accurate revolver tested. It is also the least expensive, has the shortest barrel, and the shortest sight radius. Just the same for personal defense and home defense, the revolver is accurate enough.

Our Team Said: We think the plastic grips are a tad too thick. Conversely, the supplied wooden grips are far too small. We rated it down on accuracy compared to the other handguns and on the hammer spur problem, which should be corrected if you plan to buy this wheelgun.

357 Magnum Range Data

Black Hills 125-grain JHPTaurus Tracker 692EAA Windicator
Average Velocity1409 fps1433 fps
Muzzle Energy551 ft.-lbs.570 ft.-lbs.
Small Group1.75 in.2.4 in.
Average Group2.0 in.3.0 in.

9mm Luger Range Data

Remington HTP 124-grain JHPTaurus Tracker 692
Average Velocity1121 fps
Muzzle Energy346 ft.-lbs.
Small Group1.9 in.
Average Group2.6 in.
All groups were fired from a Bullshooters gun rest from a benchrest firing position at 25 yards. Velocities were measured by firing over an RCBS Ammomaster Chronograph at 10 yards.

38 Special Range Data

Remington 158-grain SWCHP +PTaurus Tracker 692EAA WindicatorRock Island Armory 206Taurus Defender 856
Average Velocity870 fps855 fps804 fps846 fps
Muzzle Energy266 ft.-lbs.256 ft.-lbs.227 ft.-lbs.251 ft.-lbs.
Small Group2.1 in.2.25 in.3.7 in.3.0 in.
Average Group2.6 in.2.7 in.4.5 in.3.2 in.
Black Hills Cowboy 158-grain RNLTaurus Tracker 692EAA WindicatorRock Island Armory 206Taurus Defender 856
Average Velocity799 fps812 fps690 fps760 fps
Muzzle Energy224 ft.-lbs.231 ft.-lbs.167 ft.-lbs.203 ft.-lbs.
Small Group1.75 in.2.45 in.3.25 in.3.3 in.
Average Group2.2 in.3.1 in.4.0 in.3.8 in.
Black Hills Cowboy 158-grain RNLTaurus Tracker 692EAA WindicatorRock Island Armory 206Taurus Defender 856
Average Velocity960 fps975 fps860 fps901 fps
Muzzle Energy256 ft.-lbs.264 ft.-lbs.205 ft.-lbs.225 ft.-lbs.
Small Group1.8 in.2.0 in.3.6 in.2.6 in.
Average Group2.4 in.2.65 in.4.4 in.3.2 in.
All groups were fired from a Bullshooters gun rest from a benchrest firing position at 25 yards. Velocities were measured by firing over an RCBS Ammomaster Chronograph at 10 yards.

Value Guide: 39 Special/375 Magnum Revolver Rankings

Gun NameIssueGradeComments
Colt Python (2020) PYTHON-SP4WTS 357 Magnum, $1300Jan. 2021APricey, 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, $1800Jan. 2021AWe really liked the trigger and found the revolver to be quite accurate.
Colt Python (1980) 357 Magnum, ~$2500Jan. 2021AThe trigger is superb and the royal-blue finish is brilliant. The aftermarket Hogue grip helps reduce felt recoil.
Colt Python (1964) 357 Magnum, $1800Jan. 2021A-It provided good performance and accuracy. This is a shooter and perhaps is a candidate for restoration.
Colt King Cobra KCOBRA-SB3BB 357 Magnum, $838May. 2020AThe 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, $504May. 2020A-There was a lot to like, price, accuracy, shooting comfort. Not a beautiful revolver for sure.
Rossi Model 971 VRC 357 Magnum, $295May. 2020BA great trigger, and the porting helped keep us on target. But the accuracy was less than stellar.
Taurus Model 66 2-660041 357 Magnum, $371Oct. 2019AWell suited to personal defense and home defense. Good field gun for protection against animals.
Taurus 608 Matte Stainless 2-608049 357 Magnum, $548Oct. 2019A-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, $909Oct. 2019B-The grips are not the best design for handling magnum loads. Trigger action was the big problem, very heavy.
Ruger GP100 KGP-141 357 Magnum, $500Sept. 2018AThe stainless-steel GP100 performs in all categories: accuracy, smoothness, control, and velocity.
S&W M66 Combat Magnum 357 Magnum, $420Sept. 2018B+Stainless steel, smooth action, and a round-butt configuration seldom seen on the Combat Magnum.
Ruger GP100 GP-141 357 Magnum, $480Sept. 2018B+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, $800Sept. 2018BCame with a display case and a knife with matching serial number — pretty neat, but also pricey.
Taurus Model 66 357 Magnum, $325Sept. 2018B-The barrel length of 6 inches did not generate greater velocity. Current-production version is 2-660069.
Ruger LCRx Model 5460 357 Magnum, $669Apr. 2018A-Decent accuracy and made concealed carry uncomplicated. It transmitted a lot of recoil to the shooter’s hand.
Kimber K6s Model CDP 357 Magnum, $1155Apr. 2018B+The K6s has a smooth, consistent trigger pull, a small grip for easy conceal carry, and offers six shots. Pricey.
Colt Cobra COBRA-SM2FO 38 Special, $699Apr. 2018BGood trigger pull in double action and good sights, which made it easy and accurate to shoot.
Ruger Security Six 357 Mag., $430-$450Jul. 2017B+Had good accuracy with user-friendly sights; recoil was mild due to its bulk.
Colt Lawman Mk III 357 Mag., $450-$525Jul. 2017BA full-size revolver, so it is less concealable. Offered pleasant recoil. Double-action pull was too heavy.
Smith & Wesson M649 357 Magnum, $500-$530Jun. 2017AThe 649 was lightweight, thin, and concealable. Even with 357 Magnum loads, recoil was tolerable.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I have the Rock Island Model 200. That’s the 4 in barrel version. No hammer bite issues, shoots straight (I like 158 gr LWCHP +P’s), and it is dependable. Although I have more expensive revolvers and semi autos, I find the Rock 200 to be a great truck/boat gun.

  2. I have the RIA M-200….It has shot Flawlessly for me great Value for Purchase it is my House Gun and I am willing to Stake My Life on this Revolver…would be good for Guntests to Review!!😀

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