May 2004

Versatile Four-Inch Forty-Bore Revolvers: Big ‘Snake’ Charms Us

Smith & Wesson’s $833 Model 610 10mm/.40 S&W is a slick shooter, but the $1000 Colt Anaconda in .44 Special/.44 Magnum is better than ever, in our estimation.

Got bears? The latest production Colt Anaconda was our choice for a sidearm on a cold day in the woods or field. We’d choose this .44 Magnum over the Smith & Wesson 10mm Auto Model 610 for its wider range of power.

The shooter who wants a lot of power without too much barrel length doesn’t have a lot of choices among revolvers. Most of today’s bigger-bore revolvers are more commonly outfitted with barrels measuring 5 inches or longer. Instead, we wanted to find a gun with a good old fashioned “duty length” 4-inch barrel for easier carry, but that was chambered for rounds that will do everything from self-protection in the urban wilderness to self-protection in the traditional wilderness.

Toward that end, we recently tested larger-framed (but not super-sized) models chambered for 10mm Auto and .44 Remington Magnum to follow up on a January 2004 test of a 4-inch-barrel .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 29. Our guns were the Colt Anaconda in .44 Magnum, both a current production model and a used gun for historical comparison. We got both guns from Fountain Firearms in Houston, www.fountainfirearms.com, 281-561-8447. We also decided to try the Smith & Wesson Model 610. This gun was chambered for 10mm Auto, and it also fires .40 S&W cartridges.

Here’s what we found.

Smith & Wesson Model 610 10mm, $831


Perhaps the best-known revolver that adapts auto-rimmed ammunition for use in a revolver is the Smith & Wesson Model 625 chambered for .45 ACP. But another big-bore revolver from the Springfield, Massachusetts-based manufacturer that loads its rounds in a moon clip is the 10mm Auto 610. The 10mm Auto round was originally designed to work in the now defunct Bren Ten semi-automatic pistol by Dornaus and Dixon. Whit Collins, John Adams, Irving Stone and Jeff Cooper developed the 10mm round in 1983. This was one of the first attempts to bring .357 Magnum revolver power to the semi-automatic pistol. By 1990 the 10mm Auto cartridge had found a home in the 1911 frame of Colt’s Delta Elite model, which was adopted by the FBI. But the 10mm Auto round was ultimately judged to produce too much recoil. Incidents of mechanical failure followed. The 10mm Auto round was subsequently dropped in favor of the more compact .40 S&W cartridge. It should be noted that the .40 S&W and 10mm Auto rounds use straight-walled cases that feature an extractor groove just in front of the case head, the profile of which remains even with the diameter of the case. Moon clips that grab each round by the extractor groove and bridges across the rear of the cylinder are necessary to hold the rounds in position. After ignition the extractor pushes on the moon clip to clear the spent cases en masse from the cylinder. The loading and unloading of the clips can be accomplished by hand, but there are tools available to make the job easier.

The 610 revolver was built on the “N” frame, which until the arrival of the Model 500 Magnum was the largest revolver platform available from Smith & Wesson. It had a round-butt frame to offset some of its size and to give it a little help in terms of concealment. The 610 is all stainless steel, and with its full-lug barrel and non-fluted cylinder, has the look of one solid piece of hardware.

Our 610 had a wide target hammer checkered to make setting or releasing the trigger from single-action fire sure and easy. The cylinder release was also checkered for sure operation. The release was relieved on the bottom to offer additional clearance for loading and unloading rounds. This is helpful because rounds are not to be loaded individually but as a unit of six rounds at a time fixed inside the moon clips. Just above the release was a hammer lock, for which two keys were provided. The rear sight is the familiar Smith & Wesson adjustable unit that requires only one size screwdriver to change windage and elevation. The rear notch was outlined in white, and the carrier was lined to reduce glare. Up front was a black-serrated ramp pinned into place. Subtle touches include a modest beveling of the cylinder edges fore and aft plus a well-defined crown on the barrel, whose wide mouth boldly displayed the lands and grooves of its bore.

Unlike some semi-automatic pistols, double-action revolvers do not have a mechanical safety to prevent unintentional fire. But the hammer on the 610 will not fall without contact with the trigger first lowering the hammer block. Furthermore, today’s Smith & Wesson revolvers operate with an inertial firing pin. This means the contact point of the firing pin is independent of the hammer. Years ago the hammer and “nose pin” were one, and without a hammer block in place, it was possible for the hammer, even from the rest position, to drive its pin into the primer. Today the firing pin rests in a channel and requires a hammer strike with significant velocity to overcome the spring that holds the firing pin back from the primer.

We measured the double-action trigger to break at 14 pounds. This may sound heavy, but the action was very smooth and consistent. We also felt that the taper and swell of the Hogue grip helped us reach the trigger with a strong index. The back strap of this grip was cutaway and the grip frame polished. None of the rounds we fired were heavy enough to cause discomfort with this design. In fact we were surprised just how tame even the heaviest of the 10mm Auto loads felt when fired from our 610.

Our

accuracy data

was collected firing single action only. We used sand-filled pillow bags on a bench with Midway USA (800-243-3220) pistol targets mounted 25 yards downrange. The bull measured 4 inches in diameter and we used a 6 o’clock hold. We fired three different rounds of .40 S&W and three different rounds of 10mm Auto. Both jacketed hollowpoint (JHP) selections from Black Hills Ammunition, with slugs weighing 165 and 189 grains respectively, proved more accurate than the 180-grain full metal jacket (FMJ) round from the white Winchester USA box. The top choice was the Black Hills 180-grain hollowpoint with groups that varied from 1.7 to 1.9 inches. The 165-grain hollowpoints, however, produced the most power in .40 S&W. At an average velocity of 1096 fps, muzzle energy computed to 440 foot-pounds. Actually, only one of our 10mm Auto rounds proved more powerful than this round. That was the 200-grain Hornady Custom JHP/XTP rounds that traveled an average velocity of 1096 fps. Muzzle energy worked out to 464 foot-pounds. But only one of our 10mm Auto groups measured less than 2 inches. That was produced firing a High Antimony Lead target load from Federal American Eagle. Federal’s Premium Hydra-Shok was surprisingly soft, and we barely managed to print groups measuring 3 inches in diameter.

In terms of power we were not impressed with any of our choices of ammunition, save the Hornady Custom rounds. But we were sure there was plenty of head room left for loading more aggressive rounds in 10mm Auto. What we did learn was that the 610 revolver is very capable of soaking up recoil. The hottest .40 S&W round we tried would likely convince the average semi-auto shooter to take a rest after a couple of magazines worth of shots. But these same rounds felt like .38 Special in our stout 610. Nonetheless, compared to the .44 Magnum rounds, the hottest 10mm Auto rounds we tried were just beginning to get our attention.

The Smith & Wesson 610 offers a great deal of versatility. From shot to shot it can be a popgun or cannon. Having to fill and empty moon clips may seem like a chore, but charging the gun or emptying the cylinders can be achieved in a flash. This makes loading the weapon after storing gun and ammunition separately all the more convenient.

Colt Anaconda .44 Rem. Magnum, $1000


Colt’s Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticut, has been heavily involved in military and law-enforcement sales, but production of Colt revolvers such as the Python and Anaconda are continuing to pace demand. For those who have been raised on the more popular Smith & Wesson, Taurus or Ruger revolvers, the Colt double-action revolver is something different. The Anaconda, for example, does enough things just the opposite from its competitors to almost make customers feel as though they are buying a radical custom gun.

In terms of styling, three points that immediately catch the eye are the vented barrel, the silhouette cut of the ejector rod and the bell-shaped cylinder release. This release is sculpted to blend with the diameter of the cylinder and is designed not to be pushed but to be pulled rearward. This part rides smoothly in a track machined into the frame. The tip of the ejector rod does not play a part in lockup, but is given a balled end that is finely checkered. The relief for the ejector rod is cut into the full underlug to trace this outline, making it look like a part of a jigsaw puzzle. The vented barrel slopes down from underneath the ramped front sight (with orange insert) to meet with the frame. This results in a swooping line with the front and rear sights at each end.

The grip with finger grooves has two panels and features a Colt logo on each side. This silver medallion matched the stainless steel frame.

The Colt offered different operational features as well. Besides the aforementioned cylinder latch, a look at the rear sight showed a carrier that completely protects the blade. The rear notch was outlined in white. But the windage-adjustment screw was substantially smaller than the elevation screw, requiring the operator to carry two different screwdrivers to make an adjustment. But the biggest difference between the Colt and other revolvers, (save those from Dan Wesson) was the fact that the cylinder rotates in a clockwise direction. In both cases the cylinder is moved by a lever called a hand. This hand reaches through the breechface and connects with a ratchet placed at the center of the cylinder. As the trigger is pressed, the hand moves upward, causing the cylinder to rotate. This same action occurs when the hammer is pulled back to prepare for single-action fire. Clockwise rotation is achieved by bringing the hand through the left side of the breechface, contacting the ratchet at approximately 8 o’clock. The hand then moves straight up and away, letting go after settling the next chamber in front of the firing pin hole. With the hand protruding through the right side of the breechface, this same movement begins at approximately 4 o’clock on Taurus, Ruger and Smith & Wesson revolvers. From the operator’s point of view, the only real difference comes when loading a single round. The chamber corresponding to the 11 o’clock position must be loaded to fire the Colt with the next trigger press.

In terms of quality of trigger press, we do not believe this had any effect. But characteristics of the trigger are influenced by the coil mainspring rather than a leaf spring in the case of the Smith & Wesson. The result is a double-action press that would build in resistance as we neared the break. Some shooters prefer this as it enables them to set the sights and trigger just before ignition. Here is where we referred to our used Anaconda. The double-action trigger required some 3 pounds less effort to operate. The single-action trigger was only fractionally lighter on the older model however. We couldn’t tell if the lighter and smoother trigger on the used Anaconda was the result of aftermarket trigger work or merely break-in. A call to Colt established that our used gun was manufactured in 1998, so there had been plenty of time for parts to wear in. Either way we judged that the mechanism of the Colt Anaconda was capable of producing a very smooth and controllable trigger.

From a visual standpoint there was very little to distinguish our used Anaconda from the latest model. That the used gun sold for as much as $795 while the MSRP for a new Anaconda was $1000 says a lot about the Colt holding its value. The new Anaconda came with a lifetime warranty, which is not transferable to the second owner.

But our interest was centered on its working ability and not its collectible potential. Fired single action at the range, the new Anaconda performed better than our used model and registered almost identical data to the Model 29 Smith & Wesson we tested a couple of months ago. Groups fired with both the Model 29 and the latest Colt Anaconda measured between 2.0 to 2.1 inches on average when the bullet weighed 180 grains regardless of whether they were .44 Magnum or .44 Special. Firing with the 240-grain hollowpoint Federal American Eagle rounds was also close. Five-shot groups fired from the Smith & Wesson varied from 2.2 to 2.6 inches for an average group size of 2.4 inches. Groups from our new Colt Anaconda varied from 2.3 to 2.8 inches. The older Anaconda did not fare as well. It shot an average group size of just over 3.0 inches.

The only reason we can find for this was the difference in recoil between the two guns; the older model seemed to recoil more, affecting control and point of impact. Naturally, this had a negative effect on the size of groups we recorded. Our chronograph did show that the used Anaconda was producing more than 40 fps in velocity when firing the magnum rounds. However, felt recoil and its effects are sometimes difficult to quantify. We couldn’t find any solid reason for the difference.

In comparison to the Smith & Wesson 610, the Anaconda was much more powerful. Muzzle energy from our limited variety of ammunition was more than 400 foot-pounds greater, in some cases. For example, the PMC 180-grain Remington Magnum load produced an average of 916 foot-pounds from the 1998 Anaconda and 879 foot-pounds from the latest model. The hottest load we fired in the 610 only produced 464 foot-pounds. But the deciding factor in choosing between these guns was controllability.

We learned early on in this test that keeping the gun on target as you follow through with the trigger was key. We felt that the level of accuracy we recorded was limited more by the shooter than by the guns themselves, especially when firing the heavier .44 Magnum loads where recoil control played a part.

We found that both the Smith & Wesson 610 and the Colt Anaconda could be loaded with lighter recoiling rounds to produce near match-grade accuracy. But we would recommend that the shooter carry the heaviest load he can handle without causing them to flinch. Ultimately, each of these guns had the versatility we sought. But the .44 Magnum models offered the higher end in terms of power.

Gun Tests Recommends
Smith & Wesson 610 10mm Auto, $833. Buy It. Although there may not be a big selection of the more powerful 10mm rounds, the variety of available .40 S&W rounds, target to frangible, makes the 610 an appealing weapon. Accuracy with both rounds was exceptional.

Colt Anaconda .44 Rem. Magnum, $1000. Our Pick. If you are bored with revolvers, then the custom look of the Anaconda will make life interesting again. It has a high resale value and provides fine accuracy. Plus .44 Magnum offers perhaps the widest usable power range of any handgun.