THE RETURN OF S&W’S HANDY MODEL 66 WITH NEW 2.75-INCH BARREL WILL MAKE AN EXCELLENT EDC GUN
The return of S&W’s handy Model 66 with new 2.75-inch barrel will make an excellent EDC gun. By Steven Paul Barlow
Sometimes you have to tip too far in one direction and then the other until you come to the perfect balance.
That’s what has happened with the recent return of the Smith & Wesson Model 66 Combat Magnum, this time with a 2.75-inch barrel. This handier version provides an excellent balance of size and power for a .357 Magnum revolver intended as a carry gun.
A couple of new features make this model, officially the Model 66-8 (the eighth iteration of this gun), even better. But it all starts with that old familiar frame.
JUST RIGHT K-FRAME
Smith & Wesson’s revolvers built on the larger L and N frames can handle the pounding of the .357 Magnum cartridge better and the heavier guns are better for recoil management, but they’re rather big for carry guns.
Many of the company’s small J-frame revolvers are now chambered in .357 Magnum. They make great carry guns, but the super lightweight models can be brutal to shoot and difficult to control.
The Model 66, with its K frame, is in the Goldilocks position. It’s just right. It fits the average hand very well and, while it doesn’t completely tame the mighty .357, it does make it easier on the shooter. The 2.75-inch barrel is new for the Model 66 and it too seems to be just the right size, thanks to the new cylinder lock-up.
EXTRACT THOSE CASES
In the past, the knock on .357 revolvers with barrels less than 3 inches was that they necessitated a short ejector rod that didn’t allow spent cases to fully clear the cylinder when extracting them.
With the new Model 66, the cylinder still locks at the rear by way of a pin on the extractor star. But the end of the ejector rod no longer locks into the shroud under the barrel. Instead, there is a ball detent on the frame in the recess where the cylinder yoke engages it. It locks there. This would seem to be a stronger system, so it’s a win-win for this revolver as it also allows for a longer ejector rod that can eject the spent cases more fully to clear the cylinder.
So, what else does the Model 66 have to offer?
The Model 66 features a matte stainless steel frame, cylinder and two-piece barrel. Its hammer, trigger, cylinder latch, sights, ejector rod, rubber grips and frame screws are all black, giving the gun a pleasing twotone appearance.
The gun features S&W’s on-board lock system with the key hole right above the cylinder latch. When engaged, the lock prevents movement of both the hammer and the trigger. I’ve heard many complaints about the lock, mostly from older revolver purists, many of whom still are still in revolt over stainless steel and rubber grips.
To my way of thinking, if the lock offends you, don’t use it. Secure your
gun another way, in a safe or lockbox, and forget about the lock. I’ve used the lock system in the past on one of my other S&W revolvers as an extra layer of security when I had to stow my gun in a lockbox chained out of sight in my car.
This Model 66 features a metal ramp front sight with a red plastic insert. The rear sight is a fully adjustable low-profile unit. Given the wide range of bullet weights and power levels of ammo that this gun is capable of shooting—from light .38 SPL target loads to hot .357 Magnum hunting loads—having adjustable sights is an excellent feature. In shooting this revolver, however, I did find that the rear sight notch was rather small and at times hindered quick sight acquisition. So, how did the shooting go otherwise?
LOTS OF AMMO CHOICES
One of the best features of a .357 Magnum revolver is its versatility that comes from the fact that it will fire such a wide power range of ammunition. I tried a selection that included .38 Special, .38 Special +P, and .357 Magnum loads from Federal, Winchester and Remington. Bullet weights ranged from 110 (Winchester Silvertips) to 180 grains (Federal JHP), with velocities from under 700 to well over 1,200 feet per second.
“THE RUBBER GRIPS... DID A GOOD JOB WITH EVEN THE HOTTEST LOADS, INCLUDING THE FIRE-BREATHING WINCHESTER 125-GRAIN JHP .357 LOAD...”
A GOOD SHOOTER
I picked five loads and did some accuracy testing from the bench.
With a short-barreled gun such as the Model 66, I usually shoot groups from 15 yards. This revolver grouped most shots in the 1- to 1.5-inch range with a few sub-1-inch groups. It wasn’t an exhaustive, scientifically conclusive test, but it was enough for me to be confident that this is one very accurate revolver. I believe a steadier hand and more youthful eyes would have netted the same results at much greater distances.
With the mundane shooting completed, I did the rest of my shooting off-hand, shooting drills double-action from 7 to 15 yards and single-action skipping a 5-inch rubber ball along the ground from 15 yards out past 25 yards.
The trigger was excellent. Double-action was smooth and consistent. It measured 9.5 pounds on my trigger gauge. Single-action was crisp at an even 4 pounds.
The rubber grips fit my hand well and did a good job with even the hottest loads, including the fire-breathing Winchester 125-grain JHP .357 load that blasted out of the stubby little barrel and registered an average 1,237 feet per second 15 feet from the muzzle.
A WORTHY COMPANION
Yes, the heyday of the mid-sized revolver with a 4-inch barrel as a service weapon is over. But put a shorter barrel on one, such as the 2.75-inch tube on this new Model 66, and you have an excellent carry gun that fires the .357 Magnum, a cartridge with perhaps the best street record as a fight-stopper.
This Model 66 is reliable—you can forget about the stoppage drills you practice with your semi-auto. It’s accurate—if you do your part, you’ll make holes where you want them. It’s weather-resistant, good looking and it’s not made of plastic. We might win over a few revolver purists.
“THIS HANDIER VERSION PROVIDES AN EXCELLENT BALANCE OF SIZE AND POWER...”
Right: The HKS speedloaders the author uses for his Model 10 .38 Special also work for the Model 66 .357. Below: The rear sight is fully adjustable, good for a gun that’s able to shoot such a wide range of ammo. But the author felt the rear sight notch should be bigger.
Top Right: The Federal Premium .38 Special +P 130-grain HST ammo is controllable, has very little muzzle flash and is designed so the bullet will expand reliably when fired from short-barreled guns. Bottom: The ramp front sight features a red plastic insert to help you acquire it more easily.
Above: The Model 66 has an attractive two-tone appearance and is sized right for both shooting and carrying.
Below: The cylinder latch on the frame is angled for easy manipulation by the thumb for right-handed shooters. Visible above the latch is the key hole for the integral lock.
Above: The S&W Model 66 with 2.75-inch barrel is a mid-sized .357 that provides the right balance of power and carry convenience. Below: The hammer is checkered and easy to reach, but not overly long or obtrusive.