Hello. At a recent gunshow, I picked up an unfired S&W Model 66 .357 Magnum revolver with the 2 1/2" bbl. It had some nice aftermarket stocks on it but I opted to refinish a set of the factory service stocks instead since the regular factory roundbutt stocks work fine for me.
When S&W's stainless service revolvers hit the market decades ago, police officers I knew beat a path to the local shop to buy them or at the very least, get their names on the "want list". Not so popular as in decades past, I think that the revolver is still a very viable piece of defensive "machinery". Since I'm not in a gunfight-per-day, I also rate "fun" as being pretty high on my list of things to do. I don't think there much that beats a revolver for just knocking around at the range or plinking safely & legally. That said, I think they can still hold their own for protection in wooded areas or urban jungles. Others may consider them "outdated" and me as being "out of touch". Despite my extreme fondness and familiarity with a number of autopistols such as the Hi Power, CZ-75, Glocks, etc, I have never felt "deprived" if toting a wheelgun. If you do, go with the automatic that you're most competent with in my view. Shown with my Model 66 snub are a speed loader and carrier. The speed loader contains Remington .357 Magnum 125-gr. Golden Sabers, a mid-power magnum load intended for more compact "carry guns".
The Revolver: This one has a very acceptable double and single-action. The cylinder is nicely in time and lockup is a little better than average with imperceptible endplay when only checked by hand. The finish is unmarred and everything appears quite normal. Checking the bore and cylinder yielded no surprises. In short, the S&W Model 66 snub is about like many others in circulation.
Ammunition: I only tried four loads today. All were .357 Magnum loads. No .38 Specials were tried. This ammo was chronographed. Average velocities are based on 10-shot strings fired 10' from the chronograph screen. Here are the average velocities in ft/sec:
Corbon 125-gr. DPX: 1141 (ES: 41, SD: 19)
Winchester 145-gr. STHP: 1171 (ES: 40, SD: 18)
Georgia Arms 158-gr. LRNFP "Cowboy Load": 807 (ES: 36, SD: 16)
Sellier & Bellot 158-gr. JFP: 1159, (ES: 45, SD: 21)
Here are examples of the .357 ammunition shot today. Left to right: Corbon 125-gr. DPX, Winchester 145-gr. STHP, GA 158-gr. LRNFP, and S&B 158-gr. JFP.
This was my first experience with the very lightly-loaded Georgia Arms .357 "Cowboy Load" in the traditional 158-grain bullet weight for the three-fifty-seven. It is a "poof load", nothing more than a middlin' .38 Special load really...but it is just a peach to shoot with respect to light recoil and out to about 12 yards (the farthest I shot today), POI for this one is fairly close to the other loads. I have no doubt that as distance increases to 25 and 50 yards, unless the target gets quite a bit larger, divergences between these loads' points-of-impact vs. points-of-aim will become a problem.
Shooting: All shooting today was done at 10 and at 12 yards. All was done double-action and from a standing position using a two-hand hold. The bullseye targets were shot in slow-fire while the "green man" target was fired upon as rapidly as a flash sight-picture could be obtained.
Before shooting any groups, I made a very minor adjustment to the rear sight. I didn't touch the windage but did raise the elevation but two clicks. I used the Corbon mid-power DPX load for this as it is what I'd use in the gun for "serious purposes". I actually settled on the dead-on POA with this load being maybe an inch low at 12 yards. This would allow me to hold dead-bang "on" with the Winchester 145-gr. load and a Six O'Clock hold with the light practice rounds from Georgia Arms...at least at this distance and closer.
Here are the results of 8 FTS (Failure to Stop Drills). They were fired using the S&B full-power .357 loaded mentioned previously. Though controllable, they were not pleasant to shoot in my opinion. This drill began with the gun in a low-ready position and using two hands. Average time was 2.31 secs for each set of "two to the body and one to the head."
Here are six (expensive) shots using Corbon's 125-gr. DPX load. I appreciated its "mid-power recoil". Point-of-aim was the center of the gray bullseye. You can see that it's just a tad low...but closer than I could get in a real defensive situation with its abbreviated time-frames. This group, like the ones that follow, was fired slow-fire, double-action and at 12 yards. There was no effort at speed but I'd estimate the cadence at 1 shot per second or perhaps each second-and-a-half. This and the following groups were simply to see what I could do with each type ammunition and to verify that the gun was "on".
Georgia Arm's 357 "Cowboy Load" would have done the best group of the day were it not for my mistake, which can be seen at the 3 O' Clock position! Not surprisingly, this was the most pleasant shooting load of the four today. In a K-frame, this .38 ballistic-equivalent is extremely mild. So why not just shoot .38 Specials? I just don't like having to scrub out the "lead build-up" that can eventually prevent either loading the longer magnums or make extraction of them difficult. With these "Cowboy Loads", it is not an issue. (Do not take this to mean that I don't advocate cleaning one's firearms when used. I believe in and practice cleaning mine each time that they are used.)
Winchester's 145-gr. STHP was the least comfortable to me. The low shot is simply where I flinched. I knew it when I did it; it is not the "fault" of either the gun or ammunition.
S&B's full-power 158-gr. JFP groups nicely enough from the gun, but hits distinctly left of POA and remember that this is only at 12 yards. At greater distances, divergence of POI from POA could become significant. I won't be using this ammunition in this revolver anymore despite it's obviously grouping very nicely from this revolver. I can work around POI being a little higher or lower but not windage changes.
Conclusion: Shooting the stainless "Combat Magnum" snub is about like a remember from earliar years. With very, very mild arthritis and some "extra years" now, I do find that recoil that used to not be objectionable then sort of is now...******!
There were no problems with the gun, no failures-to-fire, action locking up, or malfunctions of any kind. Primer strikes were centered satisfactorily and positive.
I'd checked the screws before shooting and after shooting, checked them again. They were still tight, but not all that many shots were fired. With my .38 Special K-frames, this is not usually an issue at all. With K-frame .357's, shooting full-power loads can and will loosen screws sooner or later. I suggest that magnum shooters not fail to regularly check them.
If you have a revolver that you want to discreetly carry, I've had good luck with Galco's paddle holster shown below. It's quality was plenty acceptable and in fact, better than I expected.
This modestly-priced Galco paddle holster has adjustable tension for holding the revolver and its "paddle" held the holster securely where I had positioned it.
I will not be shooting full-power, sharp-recoiling 125-gr. .357 Magnums in this revolver. The reason is two-fold: First, S&W no longer offers K-frame .357 revolvers and I've learned that they've not had spare barrels for them in stock for quite a while now should I be unlucky enough to crack the forcing cone. Second, I don't like the recoil, which feels heavier and certainly "sharper" than full-power loads using heavier bullets. This one will get shot using the Georgia Arms "Cowboy Load" and some handloaded 158-gr. SWC's at about 1050 ft/sec. Its "serious load" will be whichever groups best or is closest to hand from these three mid-power .357 Magnum's:
Corbon 125-gr. DPX
Remington 125-gr. Golden Saber
Speer 135-gr. Gold Dot (Short Barrel Load)
All in all, I'm pleased with the Model 66's initial range session.
For those interested, Galco holsters and leather products (which I have no affiliation with) can be found here:
Galco holsters; Holsters; Gun holster, pistol holsters, western holsters, shoulder holsters, leather holster and Glock holsters
For anyone interested, somewhat related topics on revolvers as well as mid-power magnums can be found here:
hi-powers--handguns: Don't Count the Revolver Short...
hi-powers--handguns: Can Less be More? A Look at .357 Mid-range Magnums