Editor's Note: View our photo gallery featuring, "Smith & Wesson's Tactical Rail Revolver."
As someone who served in law enforcement when revolvers reigned supreme, I come from the generation that routinely went into harm's way while armed with nothing more powerful than a five- or six-shot Smith & Wesson or Colt wheel gun. Today, semi-automatic pistols are the personal defense weapons of choice for law enforcement officers, military personnel, and legally armed citizens. The question this article poses is whether the eight-shot Smith & Wesson 327 TRR8 .357 Magnum revolver is fit to serve alongside popular semi-automatic pistols. I believe it is.
The first time I saw a Smith & Wesson 327 TRR8 revolver with a five-inch barrel I experienced a flashback to the old days when I worked as a uniformed police officer and I carried a Smith & Wesson Model 10 and a Model 64 with a four-inch barrel. Even though many people who carry pistols will think I am crazy for saying so, I never felt that I lacked adequate firepower or that I was poorly armed when I carried one or two revolvers on duty. In fact, I am firmly convinced that if you are properly trained you can use one or two revolvers and a pocket full of speed loaders to accomplish anything that you can do with a semi-automatic pistol.
Although it seems hard to believe, there was a time in this country when law enforcement officers conducted raids while armed with nothing more powerful than a .38 or .357 Magnum revolver and maybe a shotgun or a lever-action rifle. Whether you like wheel guns or not, the truth is revolvers have a proven track record for being a more than adequate sidearm to carry on or off duty. Keep in mind that even in the real old days plenty of cops armed with revolvers that were loaded with rather anemic ammunition engaged plenty of bad guys who were armed with all sorts of firearms including 1911s and other pistols.
The Perfect SWAT Revolver
The worst thing that can happen to any law enforcement officer is to have your pistol jam when you need to use it to protect life and property. As the story goes, a police SWAT team reportedly contacted Smith & Wesson to discuss the need to arm the lead penetrator who carries the ballistic shield during tactical operations with a revolver instead of a semi-automatic pistol. The rationale behind this request was to provide a handgun to certain SWAT personnel that would not jam or malfunction, especially if the firearm made contact with the ballistic shield or any other obstruction when it was fired. In response, the Smith & Wesson Performance Center developed the Model 327 Tactical Rail Revolver in .357 Magnum with an eight-shot capacity.
In my opinion, the S&W 327 TRR8 is the premier tactical (SWAT) revolver for the 21st Century. Even though any armed professional or legally armed citizen can use a Smith & Wesson TRR8 for personal protection or home defense, this revolver is the ideal sidearm for certain law enforcement officers who participate in tactical operations. In particular, the S&W 327 Tactical Rail Revolver is best suited to be used by the lead penetrator of a SWAT team, especially since this revolver carries as many rounds of ammunition as the average .45 ACP 1911.
When a SWAT team enters a location to search and secure, the lead penetrator is assigned the job of holding the ballistic shield that the team funnels in behind. When this shield is carried the lead penetrator only has one hand free to hold a weapon for personal protection. This means that the tactical officer in the number one position on a SWAT team is generally restricted to using a handgun as a primary weapon.
When it is necessary to use deadly force, the lead penetrator has to hunker down behind his or her ballistic shield while returning fire with a service handgun. Due to the mechanics of a semi-automatic pistol it is possible to have the slide of any service pistol strike the edge of the ballistic shield during firing. Again, this was the rationale behind the original request that was reportedly presented to Smith & Wesson that resulted in the creation of the 327 Tactical Rail Revolver.
Even if the odds of having the slide on your service pistol impact the ballistic shield or the leading edge of a wooden door are incredibly low, it is possible that your pistol could malfunction for any number of reasons. In contrast, revolvers are notoriously reliable. This means that anyone who carries a Smith & Wesson 327 TRR8 is virtually guaranteed to always be able to fire eight rounds of .38 Special or .357 Magnum ammunition without any malfunctions or interruptions in operation.
Since many SWAT teams carry eight-shot 1911s, there is also no loss of firepower to be concerned with when using an eight-shot .357 Magnum revolver. The use of well-made "full moon" ammunition clips enables anyone who operates the S&W 327 TRR8 to execute a combat reload almost as fast as anyone can reload a semi-automatic pistol. As far as recoil is concerned, the S&W 327 TRR8 is surprisingly comfortable to shoot with factory manufactured +P .38 Special or .357 Magnum ammunition. The TRR8 is also amazingly accurate, even when fired with one hand.[PAGEBREAK]
Comparing Apples to Oranges
Years ago the law enforcement profession made the decision to transition
en masse to semi-automatic pistols, especially high-capacity pistols in hard-hitting calibers. While I sincerely doubt that the reputation of the Smith & Wesson 327 TRR8 will be able to reverse this trend, I do think some agencies might adopt it as a special purpose tactical handgun.
In the old days the argument that brought about the widespread transition to pistols was all about firepower. The S&W 327 TRR8 dispels some of this argument because it is chambered to carry eight rounds of effective .357 Magnum ammunition, an impressive number of bullets for a wheel gun. It is also interesting to note that the eight-round cylinder on the 327 TRR8 is similar in size to the six-round cylinder that was used on Smith & Wesson N frame revolvers chambered in .357 Magnum.
Even though 1911s and the S&W 327 TRR8 are chambered in hard-hitting calibers and can carry similar accessories, I suspect that most folks would rather be armed with a pistol because we have been brainwashed to believe that semi-autos are better than revolvers. Hear me out here.
Keep in mind that the 327 TRR8 revolver has a removable rail on top of the frame that accommodates various types of optics. This revolver can also accommodate laser grips and a flashlight. In contrast, 1911s and other pistols are not specifically designed to accommodate optics. Given the choice, I'd be more than satisfied with the S&W 327 TRR8 for duty.
While field testing the 327 TRR8 it became apparent that the revolver was shooting a few inches low. To correct this problem I used a small screwdriver to turn the rear sight counterclockwise so I could raise the point of impact. Had the S&W 327 TRR8 been shooting high I would have turned the rear sight clockwise to lower the point of impact. I should add that it took less than 50 rounds of .357 Magnum and .38 Special Plus P ammunition to sight in the .327 TRR8 and see how this revolver shot with different bullet weights.
One problem that seems to haunt this revolver is the lack of available holsters. I found an old Hunter field holster that worked great as long as I did not attach any accessories. Hopefully, some of the holster companies will start making suitable holsters for this revolver, especially tactical holsters.
As someone who is admittedly a tad old fashioned, I tend to be skeptical of high-speed, low-drag, high-tech gadgets and equipment. As a result, I was never a fan of laser grips until I after I installed a pair of Crimson Trace Laser Grips on the Smith & Wesson 327 TRR8 test revolver. From the moment that I installed the Crimson Trace grips on the S&W 327 TRR8, I became a huge fan of both products. The overall size and weight of the 327 TRR8 makes this revolver hefty enough to absorb recoil like a sponge. The unloaded weight of the 327 TRR8 is 35 ounces.
When I installed the Crimson Trace Laser Grips on the S&W 327 TRR8, I was concerned that this revolver would not be as comfortable to shoot when I used .357 Magnum ammunition. Much to my surprise the grips proved to be extremely comfortable to use, even after I fired several cylinders full of Federal Nylcad .357 Magnum ammunition. Well done, Crimson Trace.
I had mixed feelings about using optics while testing the 327 TRR8. First off, this revolver has excellent adjustable sights, outstanding ergonomics, and terrific weight and balance for an eight-shot full-size wheel gun with a five-inch barrel built on an S&W N frame. While training with optics attached, I found that I acquired targets a tad quicker when I did it the old fashioned way and used the adjustable sights.
Even though I had no problem using this revolver with various accessories attached, I preferred shooting the S&W 327 TRR8 without the optics or a light but always with the Crimson Trace laser grips attached. If you feel otherwise I suggest you consider using the Aimpoint Micro T-1 NVC or the Trijicon MS04 Red Dot with the S&W 327 TRR8 revolver.
Lights are also a popular accessory to use on tactical firearms. Of all the accessories at my disposal my favorite is the Insight Technology SSL-1 LED Tactical Light. The only problem with using a light on the 327 TRR8 is the location of the accessory rail under the barrel. Unlike the accessory rail on a pistol that is easy to reach with your trigger finger, a light that is positioned on the S&W 327 TRR8 is not easy to access unless you use a wire and touch pad to extend the light switch to within reach of the shooter's hand. The other alternative is to access the light switch with your weak hand, a feat that would be difficult for a SWAT officer carrying the ballistic shield to do.
While many people will pay more than $1,000 for a tricked out 1911, most consumers find it hard to shell out that kind of money for a revolver, even one that is designed to be used with optics, a flashlight, and a laser. Even when used as a straight revolver with no accessories attached, the S&W 327 TRR8 is the finest American made paramilitary-style tactical service revolver in current production. Hopefully, this article will enlighten law enforcement officers about the benefits of using a well-made revolver like the S&W 327 TRR8 for tactical operations, personal protection, and home defense.
Nick Jacobellis is a medically retired U.S. Customs Agent and former police officer who was physically disabled in the line of duty while working undercover as a federal agent.