Not a lot of revolvers make what I consider great nightstand or full-blown, apocalyptic-scenario sidearms. Those that do are double-actions in .357 Magnum caliber, with 4- to 6-inch barrels. Much as I love the bigger .44 and .41 magnums, they are just too hard for the average shooter to shoot well and shoot quickly. Good medium-size, steel-frame revolvers in .357 Magnum are powerful, easy enough to shoot even with full-house loads, accurate, and reliable. Here are a few of the best.
Overbuilt for pure durability, the GP100 will take as many full-pressure magnum loads as you care to feed it without issue. One of the heavier mid-size double-action revolvers, it’s easy to shoot because that weight tames recoil. Triggers can be heavy and sometimes a bit rough—if you purchase one and the trigger doesn’t smooth up within 500 rounds or so, you may want to consider having a professional trigger job done.
Capacity is six rounds, and weight is a hefty 40 ounces. Like most revolvers, GP100s don’t have a light rail, so pair it with a good tactical flashlight. Though suggested retail for the blued model is nearly $700, and the stainless model tops $750, street price is usually much lower. It’s a lot of gun for the money.
Smith & Wesson Model 686 Plus
There are those who would disagree, but I consider the S&W 686 Plus to be arguably the single most versatile, ergonomic .357 Magnum revolver available. The dead-reliable actions are smooth, trigger pull is crisp and clean, and they are typically very accurate. Add to that the “plus” feature—an additional round in the cylinder, making it a seven-shooter—and you’ve got a fantastic all-around double-action revolver.
All 686 models are constructed of stainless steel, and are robust and durable enough to pound nails with and then go outshoot your buddies at the local bowling pin revolver match. Weight of the 4-inch model is just over 38 ounces. Paired with a good tactical flashlight, it will serve yeoman’s duty on your nightstand. They aren’t cheap: suggested retail price is $849. The only double-action revolver that could possibly be better is its suped-up, combat-configured sibling, the S&W M&P R8.
Smith & Wesson Model M&P R8
This is a state-of-the-art fighting revolver, and much as I love the slightly smaller L-framed model 686, the N-frame, eight-shot double-action M&P R8 is a better personal-protection gun. The “R8” designation indicates characteristics vital to its superiority: a light rail machined into the barrel shroud, and eight-round capacity.
Designed from the ground up for duty carry and combat, the eight-shot cylinder is cut for moon clips (which allow shooters to reload very quickly), but functions just fine with loose rounds too, courtesy of the rimmed design of the .357 cartridge. Built on a scandium alloy frame with a stainless cylinder, the M&P R8 is light—only 36 ounces— and is completely finished in matte-black.
I once ran a series of rather challenging tests on an M&P R8, and it performed impressively in every department. One of the most memorable was the series of 100-yard groups I fired with a handgun scope mounted; they measured between 3.5 and 5.0 inches with a variety of ammo—very good accuracy indeed.
Pushing the high $1,200s, it’s not cheap, but it will be accurate, smooth, and tough. Get a handful of moon clips for it, learn to use them, pair it with a good light such as SureFire’s X400, and you’ll have one of the most unstoppable nightstand and SHTF guns anywhere.
Known for extraordinary shootability and ultra-smooth actions, the Colt Python is a fighting revolver with history and panache. Built like a Swiss watch, Pythons are a pure joy to shoot, and typically prove both reliable and accurate.
The Python has two Achilles’ heels. The first is the flat mainspring, which gives it its legendary smooth action but is more prone to breakage than the coil springs in competing designs. The second is an unfortunate byproduct of time: Pythons haven’t been made for many years; most are coveted and protected to the point where they are not shot much any more, and as a result, gunsmiths adept at tuning, timing, and repairing them are becoming few in number.
If you drive a classic convertible, carry a pocket watch, and smoke a pipe, your only real choice (aside from a vintage Colt 1911 semi-auto) is a Colt Python. They cost, but they bring refinement and charisma to the defensive revolver world.
Part 1 covered the best semi-auto choices for the nightstand.