M629 Competitors M686
These Versatile, Accurate, Reliable Revolvers Are An Excellent Choice For Target Shooting Or Hunting.
It seems whenever life floats leisurely by and the years seem to pass all too quickly, our ideas and opinions about things sometimes adjust themselves. What was a strong belief regarding certain firearms and cartridges long ago, now appear in a different light. Like many of you, especially those of us with a touch of silver in what hair we have remaining, I appreciate truly fine guns. That wasn’t always the case.
Today I enjoy and cherish shooting top-shelf firearms more than ever before. There is just something special about a truly high-quality firearm regardless if the platform is rifle, pistol, or shotgun. So, whenever the opportunity comes knocking to test and review such a custom firearm, I look forward to the endeavor. Recently I had the pleasure of testing two Performance Center revolvers from Smith & Wesson: the Model 629 and Model 686 Competitor. And the results were nothing short of my expectations.
When I first opened the new boxes the “wow” factor hit me between the eyes. I own both a Model 629 and Model 686 in their original form so I had a preconceived idea of what these Competitor models would look like. But these Performance Center revolvers have a touch of modern technology I was not expecting. While they originate from their standard design, they certainly have been blessed with the ultimate expression of rugged simplicity. Apparently both models have enjoyed a steady regime of steroids. They are beefed-up versions of their counterparts. The glassbead finish is aesthetically pleasing and contrasts well with Hogue’s black synthetic grip. Caliber designation is nicely etched on one side of the barrel, Competitor on the other.
Both guns are six shooters that can operate in single- or double-action mode. The front sight consists of a black Patridge in a dovetail that can be easily acquired in the notch of the black target-style rear sight both fully adjustable and removable. Even these aging eyes can see the sights well and settle-in on targets expeditiously. Both revolvers frames and cylinder are stainless steel. I guess the notable difference comes in the weighted 6-inch barrel. Five weighted inserts fit inside the authoritative looking underlug and can be removed or adjusted to accommodate individual needs or desires. By removing the Allen-head screw at the end of the underlug, you can remove one, two, or all of the weighted disks if needed. You can see the weights from the cutout portion in the underlug from both sides of the barrel.
All details in machine work and configurations of the barrel are streamline and easy on the eyes. The Model 629 Competitor tipped the scale a little over 57 ounces while the original Model 629 with the same barrel length weighs in at 45 ounces. The .357 Magnum version of the Model 686 Competitor weighs 53 ounces. That is nine ounces heavier than my personal 686 with a 6-inch barrel, which has been a constant companion in the home protection battery.
The Performance Center’s tuned action was smooth and much what you would expect in a custom gun. Single action trigger pull was crisp with zero creep, no gritty feel, breaking around 3 pounds. The double-action mode was silky.
Located on the backside of the hardchrome trigger was a trigger stop. This is one feature I appreciate especially shooting a revolver in single-action regardless whether I am shooting steel targets or handgun hunting. The serrated hammer was also finished in hardchrome. The overall fit and finish on both models were nothing short of first class. The barrel/cylinder gap appeared tight and alignment true.
Both models featured integral mounting systems on their barrels. You can easily mount optics of your choice be it scope or red-dot-type optics. I wanted to use optics on both guns for accuracy testing and this feature made mounting a scope quick and easy. The integral mounting system did not detract from the eye-pleasing appearance.
So, what are these revolvers actually designed for? Smith & Wesson’s Tony Miele informed me the Model 686 Competitor was originally made for PPC competition and they are still popular in Europe. I would only assume many of the PPC competitors here in the states are using semi-autos or perhaps their duty gun. The larger .44 Magnum could be used in bowling pin matches, steel plates, and many other competitive games. Full house magnum loads could be used effectively in the hunting fields.
Obviously .44 Special loads wouldn’t recoil as much as the magnum variety making them a viable option in other matches. Our very own Dave Anderson, who is kind of a competition guru, advised me both revolvers could possibly find use in ICOR (International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts), Steel Challenge, or USPSA in the revolver division.
The M686 .357 Magnum was topped with a Meopta M-RAD electronic sight with a 5-MOA dot.
The bigger dot is fast to pick up, but Mark feels the smaller 3-MOA dot would be better for hunting.
Winchester’s 225-grain Beveled Profile Hollowpoint proved one of the more accurate .44 Mag loads tested in the M629 aided by mounting a Leupold 2X Long Eye Relief scope to the integral rail.
Not being a serious competitor, I can see handgun hunters taking a liking to either revolver especially the “double four.” I don’t honestly think you have to be in competition to enjoy either of these fine wheelguns. (At least that is what I am trying to explain to my wife.) To get a better idea of what these Performance Center guns were capable of doing, I loaded the truck with a variety of ammunition in different bullet weights and headed to the range.
My shooting buddy, Joe, came along as he enjoys testing and reviewing different guns as much as I do. Joe is somewhat younger than me, and with his steady nerves and keen eyes it’s always good to get his take on things during the evaluation process. The first day out we shot from 25 yards with open sights exclusively. We tested .357 Magnum ammo from Winchester and DoubleTap with both 125- and 158-grain bullets. During the .44 Magnum session, ammo from Hornady, Federal, CorBon, Black Hills, Buffalo Bore, and Winchester were used, all with 240-grain bullets. Joe had several groups fewer than 2 inches from a sandbag rest. My groups were a little larger.
We both agreed optics should be mounted on both guns to get a better idea of the accuracy potential. During this first session Joe and I both commented on the trigger. The crisp, clean break without tugging made shooting both guns enjoyable. It’s difficult to shoot any gun with a terrible trigger, one that has creep or overtravel, and doesn’t break without tugging until sweat pops out of your forehead. These good triggers actually made shooting these guns fun and definitely enhanced accuracy.
Another aspect we both noted was the lack of muzzle rise compared to revolvers without a weighted barrel. This makes getting off subsequent shots much quicker and easier if necessary. The additional weight of both guns also lessened felt recoil. I actually prefer a little heavier gun than most. Regardless if I have to shoot offhand or get to take advantage of a rest of some sort, I feel the added weight helps me with more precise bullet placement. All of our shooting consisted of single action. Next, we would mount optics on both guns and shoot from 50 yards and further.
With handgun hunting in the back of my mind, I mounted a quality Leupold 2X scope on the .44 Mag. After shooting Leupold scopes, both fixed power and variable, for over 30 years, I wasn’t concerned about punishing recoil affecting the optic. Those Leupold fixed power models are built like a tank. The Leupold scope was mounted in Burris Signature Zee Rings. I like the Burris rings because they never leave a blemish on the scope tube. They also secure the optic firmly and I don’t worry about them coming loose. I had to remove the front sight, which easily drifted out of the ramp. The integral mounting system on the Competitor made mounting the scope simple and painless.
As luck would have it, two new red-dot sights from Meopta landed on my doorstep. One of these babies would land on the 686. Meopta is no stranger in the optics arena. This company has facilities in the USA and Europe. They have been producing quality glass in both military and sporting versions for many years. Both of these red-dot sights were designed to aid quick target acquisition. Thanks to a locking, lever-activated, quick-release mount, I slapped Meopta’s M-RAD reflex sight on the .357 Magnum. This sight comes in 3- or 5-MOA dot sizes. The sight conveniently incorporates eight levels of brightness adjustment for daylight shooting and another eight levels for nighttime activities. Shooters can fine tune the dot intensity for a variety of conditions. The matte-black body is machined from aircraft-grade aluminum alloy and built to withstand the rigors of battlefield conditions. It should do just fine on the .357 Mag.
After acquiring more ammo I was looking forward to the second range session with optics now added to the sixguns. I shot the .44 Magnum with a variety of factory loads including some .44 Specials, from 25 and 50 yards. The additional weight on the barrel made shooting magnum factory loads comfortable. While going through seven different brands of ammo I was happy to see the Model 629 was not picky. Most magnum loads consisted of 240-grain bullets. With an upcoming hog hunt, it only seem fitting to try Winchester’s new Razor Back XT offering in their 225-grain beveled profile hollowpoint. Groups were more than acceptable from most every manufacturer. The 5-shot, 50-yard group held much less than minute-of-deer. I ran a few .44 Specials through in double action, not against steel plates in an official heat of any kind, just rocks on the berm. The action is smooth although I seldom shoot in this manner; a few rocks got busted nonetheless. With the addition of the Leupold scope, I can clearly determine this would make a fine hunting revolver for close-range encounters. I liked the feel of the Competitor, it handles recoil well, and balances nicely. Dirty Harry would be impressed.
We shot the .357 Mag with Winchester, DoubleTap and Buffalo Bore ammo using 110-, 125-, 158- and 180-grain bullets. Our home-defense gun is loaded with Winchester’s 110-grain JHP so I wanted to see how this personal protection ammo fared in the Competitor. My wife, Karen, mentioned she would like to shoot the 686. After running the first cylinder on the 25-yard target she commented, “That’s a nice trigger.” The added weight in the barrel made shooting targets comfortable.
The M-RAD reflex sight allows shooters to use both eyes making target acquisition quick. I ran some .38 Special loads through in double action and getting back on target for multiple shots was a piece of cake. The M-RAD I was using had a 5-MOA dot size, which is fine for competition shooting against the clock at close range. For hunting purposes I prefer the smaller 3-MOA dot. The heavier frame of the 686 Competitor is easier for me to shoot more accurately than my original model. I finally had to tell Karen our ammo supply was on empty.
Are these Performance Center guns worth the coin? Well, if you happen to be a revolver aficionado with an inextinguishable desire for top-shelf six-shooters, the Competitors will be worthy of a position in your arsenal. You certainly do not have to be involved in competition games to appreciate the satisfaction from shooting a fine wheelgun. They are good looking guns and just as importantly, they shoot well too. Plus, they would make a stellar hunting handgun. What more can you ask?
By Mark Hampton
Photos By Robbie Barrkman
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Black Hills Ammunition
3050 Eglin St., Rapid City, SD 57703
Buffalo Bore Ammunition
P.O. Box 1480, St. Ignatius, MT 59865
331 E. 8th St., Greely, CO 80631
1311 Industry Rd., Sturgis, SD 57785
586 S. Main St. #333, Cedar City, UT 84720
Federal Premium Ammunition
900 Ehlen Dr., Anoka, MN 55303
P.O. Box 1848, Grand Island, NE 68802
14400 N.W. Greenbriar Pkwy.
Beaverton, OR 97006
50 Davids Dr., Hauppauge, NY 11788
600 Powder Mill Rd.
East Alton, IL 62024