You have to admit, those numbers generate a lot of confidence. However, we recommend you only shoot high-performance .38 Special ammo due to recoil considerations.
The trigger on the 386PD is smooth, as triggers should be on all proper double-action revolvers, and the cylinder release is a cool new contoured version that even comes with S&W's new built-in key lock. You just turn the widget and lock the action solidly.
Sights are a shallow "V" notch rear and a big, orange dot front, encased in a solid plastic block. S&W's encased design lets light gather in the orange sight, and it really jumps out in virtually any ambient light. The shallow "V" rear sight makes quick work a snap, and it didn't hamper fine target work in the least.
The 386PD's action was, unfortunately, rough and gritty, as seems to be the trend these days. Hand fitting costs money and increases the retail cost accordingly. Ever the closet gunsmiths, we installed an after-market spring kit, smeared some moly-lube in the action, and made it tolerable. Once we'd worked on it, the action was smooth and indexed perfectly. Old double-action revolver snakes were able to stage the trigger and deliver very accurate shots at all ranges. It was great fun to remember just why we loved these guns in the first place.
On the Range
Yup, you haven’t lost your mind—that would be seven shots you’re counting in that cylinder.
After assembling a selection of .38 Special and .357 Magnum ammo we trundled off to the range. The gun was such a pleasure to carry due to its light weight, but we had to balance our enthusiasm with our trepidations about potential recoil with full-power .357 Magnum loads. So being the big chickens we are, we started with Federal .38 Special wadcutter loads.
Wadcutters have to be the most delightful load ever invented. Virtually no recoil, accurate, and deadly on small game and even human antagonists in a pinch-we never tire of shooting them. Indeed, the Model 386PD took to them like a newborn calf takes to its mother. Ten yards revealed ragged one-hole groups. And even at 25 yards, we were able to coax solid 2- to 21/2-inch groups, double action, by carefully staging the trigger. We loved the gun and ammo combo and shot up all the wadcutters much too soon.
Then we got semi-serious and loaded some fighting hollow-points from several makers. While the recoil of the plus-p ammo was much more than the wadcutters, it was certainly manageable, and we would have no hesitation to carry any we tested as a duty load.
Our sojourn into the realm of the .357 Magnum was another story.
The integral key lock secures the action and puts a flag up next to the hammer to remind you things have been “turned off.” Note the contoured cylinder release.
Can you say "Muzzle Blast?" Can you say "Recoil?" Gads...it was awful. And frankly, we see no reason to ever do it again. The "are we having fun yet?" quotient dropped into oblivion after the first few rounds. The .357 Magnum works best in at least a 4-inch barrel and likes a 6-inch barrel even better. So when you cut the weight and barrel length in about half you pay the price. Honestly? With today's high-performance .38 Special loads there is simply no reason to need a .357 Magnum in this particular gun. Unless you're out to prove your manhood (or womanhood), just say, "No" to .357 Magnums in this gun.
Quaint but functional, the lanyard loop milled into the backstrap may actually have a useful purpose in some situations, especially if you hike/camp with this lightweight wonder.
On the range we discovered only one little complaint (other than the action) and it was the short ejector rod. We'd much rather have seen the Model 386PD in a three-inch barrel configuration with a correspondingly longer ejector rod for reliable ejection of empties. As it stands now, make sure you put the muzzle up and punch the rod smartly to knock them free. Using the slightly shorter .38s helps to alleviate this situation. There may also be a slight "stickiness" to the titanium chambers that has a tendency to be grabby with the empty cases.
I don't want to belabor a point here, and this is not an "auto vs. revolver" article. But simply put, today's high-performance revolvers like the S&W 386PD have made the wheel-gun a realistic option for cops.
Smith & Wesson
Caliber: .357 Magnum
Barrel Length: 21/2 inches
Capacity: 7 Rounds
External Safety: N/A
Internal Safety: Hammer Block, built-in lock
Sights: Red dot front, "V" notch rear (adjustable)
Finish: Scandium/titanium/aluminum alloy (black and gray)
Grips: Hogue Bantam
Roy Huntington is editor of American Handgunner magazine and a retired police officer who serves on the Police advisory board.