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.
Frankly, I was surprised to see the Model 586 go. Stainless may be painless when it comes to harsh weather, but blue’s the one that’s true for many, and I always thought there was room in the S&W world for both. It turns out that the company was thinking along those same lines when it brought back the Model 586 in 2012 as part of S&W’s Classic Line. According to company representatives, “The concept behind our Classic [Line] is to bring back those older models that everyone loved but are now afraid to shoot because of the collector’s value. Now you can own one of the valued classics and still go to the range and enjoy shooting them again!”
Offered again in 4- and 6-inch barrels, the new Model 586 has the square-butt grip frame and the same overall external lines of the original, but the lockwork of the catalog’s other revolvers (a frame-mounted firing-pin action complete with an internal key lock). Aside from their barrel lengths, the new Model 586s are identical, each featuring a pinned, red-ramp, Baughman front sight, a white-outlined rear sight, a 0.38-inch semi-target hammer, a smooth, 0.31-inch combat trigger, an angled cylinder-release thumbpiece, and speedloader-relieved, checkered target grips from Altamont Company.
The blued finish on my 4-inch test sample was dark and uniform. This gun’s machining quality was very good, and unlike several revolvers of late that have, unfortunately, shipped with canted barrels, this one was on straight. The Model 586’s lockup was tight, with barely perceptible fore and aft cylinder movement and with the minimum necessary rotational play for reliable functioning.
The double-action (DA) trigger pull was off my 8-pound scale, as most revolver DA pulls are, and the single-action (SA) pull broke at an impressively crisp 4.25 pounds with only minor overtravel. Other personal checkpoints are the hammer spur (not too aggressively checkered), the rear trigger corners (less sharp than those of older forged triggers), the gap between the top of the cylinder crane and the frame (tiny and straight, as it should be), the full engagement of the front locking plunger into the ejector-rod tip (perfect), the sideplate fit (well done), and the muzzle crown. The grip panels, a step up from some I’ve seen on recent-production versions, were recreated from an original grip pattern used during the original Model 586’s production period. They are perfectly mated and checkered and fit very well to the frame.
One 94-degree afternoon with clear skies and a very slight right crosswind, I went to the range to test the Model 586. Six different loads at 25 yards off of a benchrest produced decent accuracy and included 110-, 125- and 158-grain hollow points, as well as a jacketed soft point. A wider sampling would be necessary for more conclusive results, but the Model 586 seemed to show a slight edge toward lighter-weight rounds. Generally, the lower the standard deviation is through a chronograph display, the more consistent a given load is, and with greater consistency usually comes better accuracy. That’s when the universe aligns just right, though. In this case, there was little correlation between standard deviation and group sizes.
The trigger was a plus in single-action let-off, although it doesn’t have the same double-action feel of my original 586. I had the old trigger serrations removed on an S&W I had carried on duty, as they could easily wear the skin off a finger after more than 50 DA shots. The new 586’s trigger holds true to the smoother-is-better concept, and it’s comfortable in either DA or SA fire. Current hammers are shorter than the pre-MIM counterparts, and when comparing new with old, the new seems to have a slightly shorter hammer fall. The DA pull also feels distinctly different. The white-outlining sight paint isn’t as visible as it used to be, but the contrast between it and the red-ramp front is still welcome and infinitely better than having black on both sights.
Recoil was tolerable in all loads, and the Model 586 was easy to work with for the most part. But I had trouble with its grips. As handsomely done and authentically reproduced as the current ones are, I have always replaced these types of grips with aftermarket versions—they anchor in my hand a bit better and allow for greater control. But that’s just my personal preference. If you like the classic grip on the new 586, great; if you don’t, there’s no need to give up on the gun.
I’m glad to see the Model 586 back in Smith & Wesson’s lineup. The gun offers all of the advantages of the original L-Frame for the blue-is-beautiful crowd, along with the full parts support that is no longer available on the older collectibles. Now you can have your safe queen and a shooter for those .357 Magnum afternoons at the range. For more information, visit smith-wesson.com or call 800-331-0852.