Back in late 1980, I heard about a PPC gunsmith in California who was grafting Colt Python barrels onto Smith & Wesson and Ruger revolvers for the dedicated revolver competition crowd. The idea was to achieve Python-like accuracy with a full-underlug, vented-barrel profile without having to spend Python prices. The results were called by such names as “Smolts” and “Cugers,” and for a while they were popular.

Even with the cost of a new Colt barrel and the gunsmithing involved, it was still cheaper than buying a new Python for those who were strapped financially, such as myself, a young cop. The idea interested me immensely, but before I could go forward with such a project, Smith & Wesson dropped the bomb.

A new frame size? A fully underlugged barrel? Built to hold up to the hotter magnum loads we were using just before the dawn of the autopistol? I obtained a 4-inch sample of the new Model 586 Distinguished Combat Magnum the following year, and it was definitely worth it. The impression I got from that Model 586 and others I’ve owned since is that the original, blued, 4-inch L-Frame is one of Smith & Wesson’s finest guns of all time. It balanced well; the familiar profile (slightly enlarged here and there) was retained; the highly regarded, fully adjustable, micrometer-click-adjustable rear sight was carried over; the additional weight out front helped noticeably with the .357 Magnum recoil; and even though the rib on top wasn’t ventilated, it still gave the Model 586 plenty of looks to turn heads.

The Model 586’s frame split the difference between the K-Frame and the heavier and bulkier N-Frame. Many of us felt the L-Frame was the ideal size, with greater durability than the K-Frame but less of the N-Frame’s end-of-the-shift aching back. The L-Frame also had the same square-butt grip frame size as the K, and since the K in its many variations was a majority stockholder in police leather from coast to coast, there was already a wide selection of grip types and sizes available for the Model 586. And for decades, knowledgeable S&W-owners had been spoiled with the level of tuning that could be achieved with their S&W revolvers—the L-Frame had that same potential while costing much less than a Python.

During its run from 1980 to 1999, the six-shot Model 586 was offered in several variations and more than a few commemorative versions. Subsequently, S&W dropped the blued model in favor of the stainless Model 686 equivalent as part of a general trend toward stainless revolvers. The most common Model 586 had a 4-inch barrel, but it could also be found with 6- and 8.37-inch barrels, and in a 2.5-inch barrel for overseas contracts. During the model’s life, there were various sight options, hammer and trigger widths and continuing manufacturing changes, which included the round-butt grip frame and MIM parts.

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  • John

    S&W revolvers will never have the quality, workmanship or elegance as the “modern-classic” originals. (ie: recessed cylinder, pin barrel, floating firing pin, etc) The 586/686 is a great magnum revolver. I still carry a 686 “snubby” and it is an “older” model. NO “HILLARYHOLES” in my S&W’s.

  • Fred

    When I started my career, my duty weapon was a 4inch 586, one of the originals. After a little trigger work, it was/is superb. It is the absolute best revolver I ever used. True, the Colts are fine weapons, but I prefer S&W. I now have 2 of the 586. And a 4inch 629 which I carry in a Hunter bandolier holster, when hunting.

  • JMR

    I’m with ya Fred! My first duty gun (30yrs ago) was an S&W Mod 13 (tail end of that issue), shortyly after that issued a Mod. 66. I had great luck (durability wise) as I am a shooter & put many a 125grn semijacketed magnum through both w/ no troubles! Our 13’s actually held up very well department wide. The 66’s didn’t do so well (same ammo). Maybe we (as a Dept) were shooting more? Then (only a few years after the 66) we were issued 581’s. Oh boy I loved this gun!!! Sadly, the department authorized personal purchase & carry of the Beretta 92F as an option. Out off 100 men, only a few of us stayed faithful to our beloved 581’s. Only 5yrs later our lovers (581’s) were dragged from our sad trembling hands as we were eventually all issued 92F’s w/ no options. ;( I soo miss those “Ole'” days! I’d still proudly carry that old wheel gun today if I had a chance! Heck, I could reload those beautiful Smith revolvers quicker than most could reload their 92’s, hands down. Today I can only fondly recall “what it was like” while competing in PPC, NRA Combat & IDPA matches with my personal Smith 681. Not bragging but I still outshoot those hot-shot wondermatic boys! Even took a 2nd place a few years back in the State Games! :) GOD BLESS those beautiful old Smith & Wesson revolvers!