Long-barreled revolvers have several traditional uses. Plinking for fun, small-game hunting, and competition in the rimfire category of the Hunter’s Pistol Silhouette division come to mind immediately. But more important than what a rimfire revolver can do is how well it can perform compared to shorter-barreled guns. Basically, the tradeoff is this simple: What should the longer tube provide for its greater overall length and weight?
Naturally, a longer barrel suggests two performance upgrades: better accuracy and more velocity. But as we have often found, what’s promised isn’t necessarily what’s delivered. Therewith, after thumbing through Krause’s Gun Digest 2001, we decided to test three rimfire revolvers with barrels ranging from 8.5 to 10 inches in length to see if they shot better and faster. When they arrived, we realized that our choices, Smith & Wesson’s M617, $578; Dan Wesson’s 722, $750; and the Ruger Single Six Convertible, $352, had entirely different personalities.
With three different ways to achieve the same ends, our anticipation of good times at the range grew. Each gun shares the option of firing single action, which would be our main mode of accuracy fire. However, the Smith & Wesson boasts not only its patented double action but ten-shot capacity as well. One or two more and it could be reclassified as an “assault” weapon. The Ruger revolver reminded us of the Buntline Special used by Kurt Russell in the feature film Tombstone. The Dan Wesson, with its sleek appearance, promised serious competition at the next “silo” match. With our expectations raised, all that was left was a trip to the range to prove their worth, or lack of same.
In setting up our bench, we took care to accommodate the longer overall length of these firearms. We made sure the bench was long enough to rest our arms so that the resulting posture was more akin to shooting prone. With arms outstretched and head resting on our right arm, we were able to take out a great deal of movement. Each revolver was fired single action only from a sandbag rest at 25 yards, but, frankly, this was not ideal for all three guns.
Naturally, the single-action only Ruger objected little. But we did find the other two guns were not as happy in SA, mainly because the supplied grips were better suited for double-action firing. The Smith & Wesson M617 was the worst offender. With 10 shots aboard and the gun fitted with a Hogue Monogrip, it was easy to see that DAO was favored. Hence, we did record some groups fired DAO from the bench. We also experimented, adding Smith & Wesson’s old-style wooden grip with the wider bottom. Our hope was to improve the M617’s performance in our SA test session. The Ruger was also tested with the supplied Winchester Magnum Rifle (WMR) cylinder, the results for which can be seen within that gun’s illustration module.
Ruger New Model Single Six Convertible (NR9), $352
At first glance the New Model Single Six Convertible is a “cowboy gun” with the advantage of a fully adjustable rear sight. But the designation “New Model” marks an update in design that makes the single-action revolver measurably safer to handle. Opening the loading gate is possible only when the hammer and trigger are fully forward. Furthermore, reading from the owner’s manual, “Opening the gate immobilizes the trigger, hammer, and transfer bar. When the gate is opened the cylinder is unlatched and can be turned for loading or ejection.” This design makes the presence of a loading notch unnecessary.
Up front is a steeply ramped serrated blade mounted on a stanchion. The sight picture was very clean. The barrel is about the same outside diameter as a standard .38/.357 barrel, but with the much smaller bore can be said to perform like a bull barrel. The advantage here is an extra rigid barrel that is more resistant to heat without the extra weight. As a result the gun balances very well and points naturally. In rapid action, we found the new Model Single Six was much quicker than anticipated.
The word convertible means the shooter can change this revolver from .22 LR to .22 WMR simply by changing the cylinder. The cylinder releases by pressing in the spring-loaded base-pin latch and pulling the base pin forward. Open the loading gate, and the cylinder is easily removed from the right side of the frame. The advantage of the WMR ammunition is an increase in power and range for killing slightly larger critters than squirrels or rabbits, which all these .22 LRs will handle. In terms of accuracy, the magnum rounds’ results were close to the Long Rifle numbers. For all shots fired, including each of the three chosen Long Rifle munitions, the Ruger averaged 1.2 inches per five-shot group. This included a 0.9-inch group firing the inexpensive Federal Lightning and also Federal’s match grade UM1 cartridge, which helped us shoot a measured 0.8-inch group. Firing magnum ammunition the overall average was 1.4 inches. However, putting aside the data for the CCI WMR rounds and only measuring our choices of Winchester’s full metal jacket and hollowpoint rounds, the results are better. While we did not record any sub 1-inch groups, the numbers 1.1 came up repeatedly.
Likewise, the difference in (overall) average velocity between the WMR and LR cartridges is 1402 fps, versus 1014 fps for LR ammunition. Thus, if you need it, changing to the WMR provides more power with adequate accuracy.
Smith & Wesson M617, $578
The Smith & Wesson 617 (not to be confused with the Taurus revolver of the same number designation) is a medium-small, K-frame revolver. You could think of it as the Model 14, K38 target model chambered for .22 LR with a full-lug 8.5-inch barrel. Other characteristics that distinguish it from the K38 is the stainless-steel finish and updated parts, including MIM internals and a frame-mounted firing pin. (MIM parts are pressed and cut instead of forged and machined.) The firing pin on the K38 was mounted on the hammer and held in place with a roll pin. The striking surface is often referred to as a nose pin. Details such as a contoured cylinder release that affords more clearance for emptying and recharging the chambers also update the design. Last, the major difference between the M617 and the revered .38 Special-only K38 is that this revolver is a round butt design. Herein lies the key to the personality of the Smith & Wesson 617.
The 617’s round butt comes covered by a rubber Hogue monogrip with relieved backstrap and deep finger grooves. This is an ideal set up for firing double action only (DAO). Swing open the cylinder and ten holes wait for loading. We should have known right there that this revolver would favor DAO and give us a little trouble at the bench. Furthermore, it did not help our bench-rest hold that the bottom of the grip is not flat. We then decided to approach our accuracy tests from more than one angle. First, we would shoot the 617 as delivered SAO and publish the data in the standard format next to it competitors. Then, we would fire the 617 DAO from a sandbag rest and report these findings. Next, we would adapt a more suitable grip for SAO fire and compare. If nothing else, changing only the physical orientation to the frame might prove how important ergonomics are to accurate fire. Here is what we found.
As delivered with the Hogue round-butt grip in place, fired SAO from a sandbag rest at 25 yards, the 617 averaged 1.9 inches for all groups fired. The best ammunition for the job proved to be the Federal UM1 (1.8-inch on average). We then went on to fire a series of 10-shot groups DAO. Actually, we didn’t mean to fire the gun’s full capacity at once, but in DAO we found it hard to fire one shot at a time and keep the same point of aim. It was easier to keep the gun rolling. We thought shooting double action in continuous fire would enable us to better judge the M617’s precision of timing and lockup. Groups improved markedly. Gun Tests still adheres to measuring five five-shot groups, but other magazines now fire ten shots and then either cull five-shot groups or when using a machine rest simply measure all ten shots center to center. Culling five-shot groups from our 10-shot volley, DAO groups varied from 0.6 to 0.8 inch.
Our next test was to remove the supplied grip and replace it with an older Smith & Wesson wooden grip that was once standard. This is a two-piece panel grip thinner at the top and wider (and flat) on the bottom. Even though the curvature of the round butt disappeared into the grip, the fit was snug and the 617 sat happily upon the sandbags. This produced two sub-1-inch groups with an overall average of 0.9 inch.
Elsewhere, we found the Smith & Wesson 617 to be the most versatile of our trio. For action games such as rimfire bowling pin shooting, where only the tops of the pins are placed on the table, or NRA Action Pistol, the M617 is far and away your best choice of this trio.
Dan Wesson 722 VH10, $750
Before ordering our Dan Wesson 722, we discussed the various available options. Our main interest would be silhouette shooting, so we ordered a model with 10-inch barrel and Patridge front blade, rather than a ramp. We mention this because in dealing with the manufacturer, NYI/Dan Wesson, it would seem that each gun is built by hand and in a manner of speaking, the buyer gets a semi-custom gun.
This gun arrived with a spent case for identification purposes, and the only indication of model was the number 722. There was no designation on the outer skin of this gun beyond the serial number, but beneath the crane the frame was a dimly embossed “Model 7__”. Hence, we are not sure which suffix is correct, but compared to the literature we have on this line of weapons it most closely resembles a VH10 (vent heavy, 10-inch barrel) revolver. The 722VH10 features an interchangeable barrel system that can turn it into a 4-, 6-, or even 2.5-inch-barreled snubby revolver. A bushing wrench is included to remove the barrel, and a shim is also included so you can set the cylinder gap. For installation one first screws the barrel into the frame with the shim in between the cylinder and the forcing cone. This ensures the proper cylinder gap. By tightening the bushing at the muzzle end the barrel is tensioned between these two points.
Another Dan Wesson characteristic is the cylinder release mounted on the crane. The purpose of locking the cylinder is to maintain alignment between the center of each chamber and the boreline. A crane detent, such as the spring-loaded ball or the Dan Wesson method, is effective because it locks the crane in place at the point where the cylinder is prone to pivot. The crane is actually a part of the frame, that by necessity must disconnect, and even when in place tends to float. Locking up only at the center pin and tip of the ejector rod is substantially weaker. Not only is this axle type combination somewhat flexible, but it is not uncommon for an ejector rod to eventually bend from being pushed on repeatedly. This can slow rotation by binding inside the ejector rod shroud. A crane lock avoids this problem as well.
The finish on the Dan Wesson is a very appealing brushed stainless steel and the gun’s sight picture is well above average. The large Hogue monogrip is a good choice for standing and firing this 3.6-pound revolver. The trigger is nicely machined and contoured. A look at the accuracy and chronograph data should tell you that this gun is capable of very consistent accuracy. But the designation of “NA” (Not Available) in the chronograph data tells a sadder tale.
As stated, we shot groups from a rest in single action only. The SA trigger was very light, and it soon seemed like the mere shadow of our finger entering the trigger guard would set it off. By the time we reached the chronograph session, the SA trigger was so light the hammer could no longer be trusted to stay locked back. Our first round through the chronograph shot through the screens of our Oehler 35P chronograph. At this point we found it impossible to measure the weight of the SA trigger. Endeavoring to fire the Dan Wesson 722 DAO, we found that the gun would fire after an inordinately heavy pull of 17 pounds, but the trigger would then stick in the fully rearward position. The overtravel screw was not making contact, but the cylinder was still not moving fully into position. Only by rotating the cylinder manually into full lockup position would the trigger finally release. Additionally, the ejector was not properly machined and would not reset into the cylinder face without physical assistance. After these mishaps, we judged this gun to be unsafe and terminated testing. In our opinion, these were not necessarily design flaws, but there were quality control problems with this specific gun that should not exist in any firearm regardless of price.
Gun Tests Recommends
Ruger New Model Single Six (Convertible), $352. Best Buy. Accurate and versatile by way of the extra magnum cylinder, this rimfire has the charm of a Western gun to boot.
Smith & Wesson M617, $578. Buy It. This is a top rimfire choice for action pistol. You might like to change grips to suit your special needs, but this gun should excel in double action or single action fire.
Dan Wesson 722VH10, $750. Don’t Buy. Our sample badly malfunctioned. While this particular gun’s performance isn’t likely to reflect on the company’s rimfire line, we were alarmed about how this particular gun operated, and we reported what happened.
We asked Dan Wesson for comments regarding possible causes of this problem, and while the company wasn’t able to examine the gun and provide a detailed response by press time, William Jeffries, marketing and customer service manager, said that a number of factors could come into play. A dirty forcing cone, reduced cylinder gap, or the pistol being dropped during shipping could alter the fine-tuning the trigger (some of which are set very light) received at the factory. We’ll update you as we learn more.