Smith & Wesson Performance Center Model 986

The 986 is an all-business, made-to-perform revolver that offered excellent accuracy with Hornady Critical Duty ammo. This highly modified L-frame had a smooth DA trigger due to the titanium cylinder. The SA trigger was crisp. We liked the large bold sights and full-size grip, which offered good recoil management. The 986 takes effort to conceal and carry.

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GUN TESTS GRADE: A

$1129

Nearly double the cost of the RIA, and a step up in performance, is the S&W 986. The 986 comes out of S&W’s Performance Shop, and it looks and performs like S&W took some thought about creating a 9mm revolver. The 968 is built on S&W’s L-frame, which was originally designed for the 357 Magnum cartridge. The barrel is extended into the cylinder frame so the cylinder can be shorter and better matched to the length of the 9mm cartridge. The bullet does not have to leap nearly as much as it does in the RIA and Taurus guns. The barrel is stainless steel and slab sided to reduce weight, even though it still sports a full underlug. It is also decoratively milled on the top side. The muzzle has a counter-bored crown and extends 0.3 inches into the cylinder window. The rifling is also well matched to the 9mm Luger cartridge, with a 1:10 twist rate. S&W’s 38 Special/357 Magnum twist rate is 1:18.75.

Action TypeRevolver
TriggerDA/SA
Overall Length7.5 in.
Barrel Length2.5 in., 1:10 in. twist rate
Sight Radius4.1 in.
Overall Height5.9 in.
Maximum Width1.5 in.
Weight Unloaded31.04 oz.
Weight Loaded35.12 oz.
Cylinder Gap.004 in.
Capacity7
Frame Material/FinishMatte stainless
Barrel/Cylinder Material/FinishMatte stainless/titanium
Frame Front Strap Height2.6 in.
Frame Back Strap Height4.0 in.
GripLaminated wood, textured, finger grooves
Grip Thickness (max)1.1 in.
Grip Circumference (max)5.3 in.
Front SightSerrated ramp with red insert, removable
Rear SightAdj. notch
Trigger Pull Weight Double Action11.0 lbs.
Trigger Pull Weight Single Action4.8 lbs.
Trigger Span Double Action3.3 in.
Trigger Span Single Action2.8 in.
SafetyHammer block
WarrantyNone written
Telephone(800) 331-0852
WebsiteSmith-Wesson.com
Made InUSA

What is smart is the 986’s cylinder is made of titanium, so it is lighter than a cylinder made of steel or stainless, as are the RIA and Taurus cylinders, respectively. Less cylinder weight means you can fire the 986 more easily in double-action mode because it is lighter. The cylinder locks up in two places; one is a detent in the underlug and the front of the ejector rod and the second is the ejector pin in the frame. There’s hardly any wiggle in this revolver.

Overall finish was an excellent matte stainless. The hammer and trigger have a hard-chrome finish, which help give the trigger a smooth slickness. The trigger i

In hand, the Smith & Wesson 986 had great balance and a thin grip.

s wide and smooth, and no doubt helps make the actual 11-pound double-action pull feels less. The single-action pull weight is a very crisp 4.8 pounds. It also has an adjustable trigger stop built into the rear of the trigger. It is adjustable via a hex wrench. We left it at the factory setting. The hammer is tear-drop shaped for better concealability and well checkered for secure cocking.

The matte-black serrated front sight has a red insert similar to the Taurus but better executed. It is also dovetailed into the barrel, and like the front sights on the other guns can be swapped out. The matte-black rear sight is adjustable, and the base of the sight is serrated to reduce glare.

The cylinder of the Smith & Wesson 986 is made of titanium, so it is lighter than a cylinder made of carbon steel or stainless.

The laminated wood grip is thin and long with finger grooves and stippled texture. Because the grip is so thin — 1.1 inches — it produces more concentrated recoil to the user’s hand when using hot loads. We felt more recoil with the Hornady and SIG ammo. We also discovered the 986 liked the Hornady Critical Duty 135-grain FlexLock ammo. It gave us our smallest group, 0.63 inches. Wow. Best group with training ammo was the SIG Sauer 115-grain FMJ with an honest 2-inch group. Average groups across all ammo ranged from 1.25 to 2.8 inches. In speed shooting, we encountered some muzzle flip, but the good trigger kept holes clustered, and the larger sights allowed fast target acquisition. Interestingly, the 986 loaded weighed the same as the Taurus 692 unloaded.

Our Team Said: The 986 has all the Performance Shop signature features we expect, such as premium slab-sided barrel, tuned trigger, and lighter cylinder. The 986 checks all the boxes for a sweet-shooting revolver, but it is costly. If you want a dedicated 9mm revolver with premium features, buy this gun.

9MM LUGER RANGE DATA

Armscor 115-gr. FMJTaurus Tracker 962RIA AL9.0Smith & Wesson Model 986
Average Velocity1057 fps1051 fps916 fps
Muzzle Energy308 ft.-lbs.304 ft.-lbs.214 ft.-lbs.
Smallest Group2.05 in.1.08 in.2.08 in.
Average Group2.75 in.1.17 in.2.38 in.
SIG Sauer115-gr. FMJTaurus Tracker 962RIA AL9.0Smith & Wesson Model 986
Average Velocity1052 fps1047 fps960 fps
Muzzle Energy283 ft.-lbs.280 ft.-lbs.235 ft.-lbs.
Smallest Group1.90 in.1.62 in.2.00 in.
Average Group2.05 in.2.02 in.2.08 in.
Hornady Critical Duty 135-gr. FlexLockTaurus Tracker 962RIA AL9.0Smith & Wesson Model 986
Average Velocity991 fps958 fps961 fps
Muzzle Energy294 ft.-lbs.275 ft.-lbs.277 ft.-lbs.
Smallest Group2.97 in.1.75 in.0.63 in.
Average Group3.08 in.2.17 in.1.25 in.
Winchester Defend 147-gr. JHPTaurus Tracker 962RIA AL9.0Smith & Wesson Model 986
Average Velocity945 fps918 fps855 fps
Muzzle Energy292 ft.-lbs.275 ft.-lbs.245 ft.-lbs.
Smallest Group2.00 in.1.81 in.2.76 in.
Average Group2.32 in.2.03 in.2.83 in.

357 MAGNUM & 38 SPECIAL RANGE DATA

Taurus Tracker 962Hornady Critical Defense 357 Mag. 125-gr. FTXArmscor 357 Mag. 158-gr. FMJBlazer 38 Special +P 125-gr. JHP
Average Velocity1227 fps997 fps858 fps
Muzzle Energy418 ft.-lbs.349 ft.-lbs.204 ft.-lbs.
Smallest Group3.28 in.1.90 in.2.38 in.
Average Group3.42 in.2.83 in.2.69 in.
To collect accuracy data, we fired five-shot groups from a bench using a rest. Distance: 25 yards with open sights. We recorded velocities using a ProChrono digital chronograph set 10 feet from the muzzle.
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Having been trained by many top-shelf handgun, shotgun, AR carbine, and long-range shooting instructors, Robert Sadowski brings a user's perspective to Gun Tests. He has authored and edited 15 books on firearm values, firearm disassembly and assembly, and gun guides. His Book Of Glock (Skyhorse Publishing) debuted as an Amazon #1 New Release and is a must-read for the Glock enthusiast. His latest book, 9MM - Guide to America's Most Popular Caliber (Gun Digest Books), is an indispensable resource on the 9mm and understanding the cartridge's performance for concealed carry, home defense, or competition. Over the past two decades, Sadowski has written for many magazines and websites, including tacticallife.com, range365.com, shootingillustrated.com, personaldefenseworld.com and more. His print work has appeared in Combat Handguns, Ballistic, Real World Survivor, Guns Digest, Guns of the Old West, SHOT Business, and more. He is currently the Treasurer/Secretary of the Glock Collectors Association. After receiving an MA from New York University, he worked for a number of magazine publishers and advertising agencies. Sadowski is a lifelong hunter, competitive shooter, and native of Connecticut. He now lives in North Carolina to take full advantage of our 2nd Amendment privilege.

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