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Smith & Wesson 386PD Revolver

This lightweight wheel-gun makes a strong case for the revival of the revolver

February 01, 2003  |  by Huntington, Roy - Also by this author


This group at 25 yards (with Federal .38 Special wadcutters) measured a tidy 21/2 inches until the author pulled that lonely shot at the bottom.

If you think that ringing you heard was the bell tolling the death knell of the revolver, think again. Not only is interest in the wheel-gun at an all-time high, the designs, material, and ergonomics of this all-important tool are as modern as this minute.

Simply put, revolvers work. And that's something people treasure in these overcomplicated times. "Six shots for sure" was the old adage, and it remains true today. A revolver is a simple machine. You pull the trigger and it goes bang. The semiauto, even into the 1970s, was sometimes a Rube Goldberg contraption and when the often-unreliable ammo of the time was factored in, its performance was an "iffy" proposition at best. Notwithstanding the classic designs-like the 1911, the Hi-Power, and a handful of others-officers of that era simply didn't have the confidence in those "dang autos" they had in their trusty revolvers.

When my own agency, the San Diego Police Department, was initially going through the "change of life" to autos, there was much wringing of hands and pulling of hair by old-timers. I distinctly recall one deputy chief patting his Smith & Wesson Model 10 .38 in its moth-eaten holster, as he said, "If this old girl was all I needed then, it's all the new crop of cops needs today." No fooling. We eventually won the battle and the deputy chief retired, taking his Model 10 with him.

Fortunately, times change and companies like SiG, S&W, Walther, Glock, Springfield Armory, Beretta, and others have introduced autos that actually run really well. The reliability of today's generation of semiauto designs is as close to 100 percent as we will probably see in a mechanical device. But still, there remain just enough of those disturbing stories that float around-many true-about an auto failing just when it was needed most. Whether from poor quality ammo (common), magazine failure (more common), or simply poor maintenance, autos sometimes fail and people's lives can be endangered.

I cut my law enforcement teeth on revolvers and the funny thing about it is that I never felt under-gunned (whatever that means). We took great pride in our well-tuned six-shot revolvers, shot them in competition regularly (PPC Shooting and early IPSC), and carried them in break-front holsters or Border Patrol styles. But as the bad guys began the arms race, it was only inevitable that law enforcement made the switch. Yet, decades later, tens of thousands of small revolvers still ride in ankle holsters and back pockets as backup guns. And for some important reasons.

A New Breed


The “Hi-Viz” front sight is encased in a solid block of plastic to protect it. The open design allows light to flood the sight, acting like a red/orange beacon downrange.

In the '70s, an innovative firearms company figured out how to stuff seven shots into a large-framed S&W revolver and used full "moon" clips to hold it all together. The wheel-gun had a temporary new lease on life. But alas, the swing to the auto continued and eventually won out. That is, until gun companies figured out how to make lightweight, tough revolvers, and give them seven- and even eight-shot cylinders.

Suddenly, the prospect of an almost infinitely reliable seven shots sounded pretty good; especially as the wholesale race toward high-capacity autos slowed. In addition, many agencies were finding that some of their officers had trouble handling the fat-gripped autos. Slender grips meant seven to nine shots and well, why is that much better than a seven- or eight-shot revolver? It's arguably not.

Semiauto advocates can wave their arms and discuss reload speeds, but with a full-moon clip or a good speedloader, a good man-or woman-with a wheel-gun can almost match a reload with an auto. Remember, the real selling point here is seven shots for sure.

And if that's not enough to convince you that the revolver may still have a place in contemporary law enforcement, consider the following. You're in a muddy fight with a suspect in a slippery, slush-covered gutter. After dropping your duty gun during the struggle you pick it up. It's covered with muck, but you manage to stuff it against your antagonist's side in-between the biting and clawing and pull the trigger. Will that auto function after the first shot? Will it even function for the first shot?

Wonder Metal


The two-tone look and atomic symbol on the side-plate is in sharp contrast to the traditional wheel-gun design. Note the smooth-faced trigger.

Now, let's look at the gun in question. The Model 386PD offers seven shots of .357 Magnum and weighs only 17.5 ounces. How is it so light? One word: scandium.

In the 1870s, scientists discovered a rare element called scandium, but it wasn't until 1966 that anyone was able to refine even one pound. We're talking rare here. Still it wasn't so rare that it couldn't be useful. About 30 years ago Russian metallurgists discovered that if you added just a touch of this wonder metal to aluminum, it suddenly decreased the grain structure of the alloy and increased its strength dramatically.

S&W picked up on the Russian research and figured scandium would do wonders for its aluminum-framed guns and presto. The results are .357 Magnums that weigh only 17.5 ounces.

Out of curiosity, we twisted arms at S&W until they relented and sent us a Model 386PD. What arrived was a nifty seven-shot revolver in .357 Magnum that was scary-light, had rubber-like finger-groove grips by Hogue, a 21/2-inch barrel, and adjustable sights. The frame is the miracle combo of aluminum and scandium (complete with a laser-etched atomic whiz-bang symbol on the side), the cylinder is titanium, and the barrel is stainless steel with a titanium shroud.

Tags: Smith & Wesson, Revolvers, Firearms Reviews

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