Magnum Opus

Now that I’ve got the problems with my SIG-Sauer shooting grip all figured out, it was time for another “fun” range trip. Okay, I’ve yet to have a range trip that wasn’t fun, but today’s was focused purely on having a good time rather than strictly focusing on shooting skills. So as is my custom, I decided to rent a gun that I’ve never shot before.

This is what I chose:

Image from http://www.smith-wesson.com

It’s a Smith & Weson Model 686 Plus, chambered for the mighty .357 Magnum cartridge. The revolver earns the “Plus” moniker because, unlike the standard 686, it holds 7 rounds in the cylinder vs. the normal 6.  The specific example that I rented, like the one in the picture above, sported a long 6-inch barrel, though the gun can also be found with barrels ranging from 2.5″ to 8″.

To go with my rental, I purchased a box of .357 Magnum cartridges, as well as a second box of .38 Specials. No, I didn’t have a “DERP!” moment: The .357 is exactly the same dimensions as a .38 Special, except the .357’s brass case is 1/8″ longer than the .38’s. This means that you can load & fire .38’s in a .357 revolver, but .357 cartridges won’t fit in a .38. Thus ends your firearms trivia fact for the day Anyway, my plan was to shoot the box of .38’s first to familiarize myself with the revolver, get used to the grip, balance, trigger pull, sights, etc., and then shoot the .357’s. And it was a good plan… sort of, I guess.

Out of a gun that weighs a smidge under  3 lbs empty, the .38 Specials were absolute pussycats, an a real pleasure to shoot. Felt recoil was significantly less than my P228, though greater than a .22, and the report was a quiet, polite, “bap!” Accuracy was, sadly, lacking, though this is purely my fault as I was not at all used to shooting the gun. The 6″ barrel makes the gun noticeably muzzle-heavy, and I was not used to the long and heavy double action pull (longer and heavier than my SIG’s) nor the hair-light single action pull. Once I got used to those three factors, cutting dead-center on the target became pretty easy.

Then it was time for the .357’s.

Loaded up 7 cartridges, closed the cylinder, took aim, pulled the trigger…

BOOOOM!!!  “OW! Son of a…”

To call the recoil “stout” would be something of an understatement. Muzzle climb was significant, and despite my best efforts to control it, the revolver rolled back in my hand quite forcefully. Note, in the above photo, the “shelf” at the top of the grip, where the bottom of the hammer fits into the frame. That shelf smacked me in the web of my shooting hand, between the thumb and trigger finger. Hard. I fired the next six shots. Got smacked in the hand six more times. Loaded up another cylinder and adjusted my grip on the gun, holding it up higher on the grip frame. Got smacked harder.

At that point, I wasn’t really having a whole lot of fun. I wasn’t shooting for beans, and my hand was starting to hurt. But I chose to press on, partly out of youthful determination and stubbornness, partly because .357 Mag is expensive and I didn’t want to waste my money. In the end, I would up shooting the gun single-action for the rest of the session, i.e. cocking the hammer after each shot, and holding it way down low on the grip frame. It was hardly conductive to accuracy, but at least I didn’t get smacked anymore. Going on four hours later, my gun hand is still sore, as is my whole arm. No bruise though.

But here’s the kicker (if you’ll pardon the pun): I think I want to do it again. As in shoot a .357 Magnum again, but not necessarily that particular gun. The issue here, I think, was that the stocks on the gun were too thin. Yeah, that’s a complete 180 from the problem I thought I was having with my SIG, but hear me out. The factory stocks on S&W revolvers are very svelte, skinny, and smooth. Very comfortable to hold, but they don’t really fill my hand at all. As a result, when I lit off those full-snot magnum rounds, there wasn’t a whole lot to hang on to. I’m thinking that if I were to buy a S&W .357 revolver, I’d replace those factory stocks with something girthier and with a rougher texture, like a Hogue MonoGrip or something similar.

On a more positive note, I also put a box of ammo through my SIG P228 while I was at the range. I shot using the thumbs-forward grip this time, and noticed an immediate and marked improvement in my accuracy… at least after I stopped instinctively compensating for the recoil of a .357 Magnum. Still not shooting it as well as I shot that 1911, but I think it safe to say that my normal “shotgun pattern way low and left” groupings are a thing of the past.

Until next time, peace.

-Raptor

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