Anyone who thinks a quality revolver is a dinosaur needs to consciously rethink his or her internal mode of operating. While I embrace new technology with the best of 'em, I also value rugged reliability, and a good revolver delivers both-in spades.
During my last two years on the San Diego Police Department, I spent my time at the Regional Training Academy as a training coordinator. The rude awakening thrust into my face during that time (the late '90s) was the fact that the majority (and I mean virtually all) of the new recruits had never shot a revolver, much less seen one in anything other than a movie. Indeed, most had never even fired a handgun, period.
Today, even experienced officers who have mastered shooting with a semi-auto may have little or even no experience with revolvers. That's a shame, and it may even be dangerous to the officer and the public.
Not a Dinosaur
When you begin to take serious looks at off-duty and backup guns, most officers favor small autos these days. However, usually, when you put "small" before auto you end up with a sub-caliber compromise and most of the small- to medium-scaled autos don't work as well as their full-sized brethren. This isn't true in all cases, but it's true in just enough cases that an ill-conceived buying decision may put an officer or others in jeopardy. Simply because "everyone else does it" doesn't mean you have to.
Yes, jeopardy. Those cute and cuddly small autos in calibers like .32 ACP, .22, .25, and even .380 often simply deliver a false sense of security rather than a real level of preparedness. So while the dandy S&W F Comp .357 Magnum six-gun may not qualify as a "small auto," it nonetheless qualifies as a viable answer to the "which gun delivers the reliability and power I need" question, even though it nudges the largish side of medium auto size.
Most off-duty and "second" guns take a severe beating in the routine maintenance department. Most are loaded and forgotten about. Those dustballs that collect in trigger guards are not conducive to the reliable operation of autos, but a revolver will shrug them off without a bobble.
Think about it for a minute. While this article isn't intended as an "auto vs. revolver" debate, it does offer an opportunity to ask you to seriously evaluate your commitment to training, maintenance, and general skill at arms.
If you're the kind of cop who doesn't take the best care of his or her weapon, then you need to think about a wheel-gun for a backup. A revolver wins hands down on ease of maintenance. If you're the kind of cop whose idea of regular pistol maintenance is to blow out the cobwebs once a month, then you're a likely candidate for a wheel gun.
Then again, at the other end of the spectrum, if you're dedicated, believe training is vital and want only the best and most current technology, get a high-quality auto and go to work with it. But still, I'd argue the same highly motivated officer armed with a revolver like the F Comp would be just as effective. An interesting juxtaposition of ideas here, but true, nevertheless. Once again we're reminded it's the man behind the tool, not necessarily the tool, that matters.
This Tool Matters
Let's not argue the merits of a full-caliber .357 Magnum revolver. We'll assume we're all on the same page here. A solid shot to the torso with a high-quality .357 bullet pretty much ends any argument. So, with historically proven field performance and the advent of seven- and even eight-shot revolvers, suddenly wheel-guns are on par with many autos, especially in this age of 10-round magazines.
Getting back to the basics, if accurate, reliable, aimed fire is the decisive factor in any confrontation, the quality of the firearm and its ability to deliver that kind of performance should be paramount. So, to disregard a high-quality revolver just because it seems old-fashioned is to disregard logic.
That's nothing new, but why continue the sin, when simple experience with this tool might open your mind.[PAGEBREAK]History Lesson
Smith & Wesson is one of the world's bastions of revolver-making and inside the company's Springfield, Mass., headquarters pundits of six-gun lore worship at the altar. With good reason. I've been there and it is a religious experience. I was once even fortunate enough to sit at D.B. Wesson's own roll-top desk in his restored office, and I could, indeed, feel the history alive under my fingertips.
Believe me, there are many reasons why old cops look misty-eyed when they talk about their old S&W duty revolver. S&W six-guns have a mystique, an aura about them that is not undeserved and the company continues that great tradition today.
One of the newest S&W revolvers is actually an updated version of the company's Model 10, updated into a stainless-steel revolver. Designated as the Model 66, this medium-framed, six-shot revolver began life as an adjustable-sighted duty gun, basically a clone of the beautifully blued Model 19, which was probably the greatest police duty revolver ever conceived.
To modernize its designs, S&W has created the Performance Center, a very special branch of the company that is populated with a handful of custom pistolsmiths who live to make superlative S&W handguns. Often, what comes from their fertile minds are almost outlandish, highly customized autos and revolvers, based loosely on a factory gun model. However, sometimes, they build a simple, elegant revolver to meet the needs of a select few users. The new Model 66 F Comp is one such revolver.
A Hard Look
When the Performance Center took that classic Model 66 and closed the doors to its shop, what emerged was what may be the epitome of a medium-framed fighting six-gun. The Center has taken a basic forging from the main factory, and created a hand-built, custom gun that shows the care and attention to both design and detail that the craftsmen at S&W have devoted to it.
The Model 66's classic 4-inch "duty" barrel is now gone and in its place is a 3-inch, fully lugged barrel. Three inches is just long enough to ensure that the ejector rod is long enough to fully eject empties. And for those who think a 3-inch barrel is too short for a duty gun, I carried one in a uniform duty holster for quite a while on patrol, and found it to be comfortable when seated in a patrol car and quick as greased lighting to put into play.
Sights on the F Comp are adjustable as they are on the basic Model 66, but the front is now dove-tailed into the top rib and can be changed if you like. The butt is of the round variety and with the custom walnut or Hogue Monogrip, the gun feels just right in the hand. The trigger is rounded, without grooves and has a built-in stop, all of which makes fast double-action work easier.
Chambers on the F Comp are neatly chamfered to aid in inserting the rounds, and the cylinder release is the new version with the ergonomically contoured rear face so your thumb finds it quickly and securely. The gun has a handsome bead blast finish, which gives it a soft, silver-gray look, which holds up well in use.
Each Model 66 F Comp also gets the entire range of custom shop performance touches. For example, a complete action job, including polishing the rebound spring, the hammer stud boss, and yoke barrel bosses, has been performed on each pistol. In addition, verification of cylinder gap, forcing cone work, and a careful final test firing are also conducted on all Model 66 F Comps before they reach the stores.
The F Comp has one feature I think could be deleted without any loss in quality. I'm sure partially due to fashion, the gun is equipped with a "comp" just forward of the front sight. Indeed, I think more would have been gained by a longer sight radius that could have been achieved if the sight had been mounted on the end of the muzzle, than by the added blast and thump of a comp.
With modern speed-loaders, modern ammo, and a Kydex holster, the F Comp is a pleasure to run. My old-school revolver fingers were right at home on this six-gun and quick strings of fire, fast reloads, and easy holsterwork made this test a great deal of fun. Even a couple of novice wheel-gunners said things like, "Hey, this is easy to shoot" and "I thought the double-action would be harder to use." Well, there you go.
I fired the F Comp for accuracy at 15 yards and there were no surprises other than one. Normally, 148-grain .38 Special wadcutters are real tack-drivers from any decent-shooting revolver, but the F Comp was very partial to higher velocity .38 Specials and .357 Magnums. The comp on the end of that muzzle seemed to do its job, but the muzzle blast was severe and a shot or two without hearing protection would probably leave permanent damage. I'm not sure a comp needs to be on a duty gun.
All in all, this was a very accurate, highly functional, deadly serious fighting revolver. Notice I didn't say "archaic" even once. If you don't believe you can do it with a revolver -especially a big bore revolver- you simply haven't learned yet.
Model 66 F Comp
Caliber: .357 Magnum
Capacity: 6 rounds
Action: DA/SA revolver
Trigger Pull: 11 pounds approx. 3 pounds S/A
Barrel Length: 3 inches
Overall Length: 8 inches
Weight: 35 ounces
Height: 6 inches
Width: 13/8 inches
Material: Stainless Steel
Sights: Adj. rear, red ramp front
Price: Approx. $799 retail, street price around $700.
Roy Huntington is the editor of American Handgunner Magazine and a long-time Police Advisory Board member.