There is no doubt that we are living in the “age of the semi-auto.” If you visit your local newsstand or the magazine rack at a big-box retail store, chances are that those firearm magazines on display that do not have AR-15s on their covers have some type of high-tech, self-shucking pistol. But what about the 8-shot revolver.
8-Shot Revolver Showdown
Those readers who are familiar with my ramblings know that while much of my literary endeavors concern semi-auto pistols, down deep I am a fan of the roundgun.
I cut my handgunning teeth with a .22 revolver; the first handgun I took a whitetail with was a long-barreled .357; one of my regular carry guns is a .38 snubbie, as is my wife’s car gun; and I have shot many an Action Pistol match with a roundgun. My older brother, an ardent shooter and engineer in the firearms industry, has long held that, “For the first six shots, a double-action revolver is the best handgun in the world.” And who am I to argue with my big brother?
But there lies the rub …”six shots.” While one can purchase a semi-auto pistol today whose magazine holds between 12 and 20 rounds of ammunition, why would you bother with a revolver that holds a measly half-dozen rounds? Well, back in the day when semi-autos were known for their quirky operation, revolver-armed law enforcement personnel were fond of saying “six for sure” about their duty wheelguns.
A number of years ago I attended a shooting school where one of the instructors carried a revolver. When several of us questioned his choice of sidearm, he told us, “If you can’t handle a defensive situation with a good .38 revolver, you don’t need a handgun. You need a SWAT team!”
I Want More
While there have always been .22 revolvers that held more than the regulation six rounds, it wasn’t until the 1990s that we saw a new breed of wheelgun that held seven .38/.357 cartridges. For a number of years I competed in the Second Chance Bowling Pin Shoot with a matching pair of S&W 686+ seven-shot .357 revolvers. And while they, and I, performed quite well, do you know what I always wished for? That’s right, an 8-shot revolver.
But time and technology stand still for no one. They say if you wish long and hard enough your wishes (might?) come true. Well, for me they did. Today those three taipans of the handgun world—Ruger, S&W and Taurus—all offer eight-shot revolvers. Emails were dispatched to the three gunmakers and over the next few weeks parcels arrived at my front door containing Taurus Model 608, S&W Performance Center M627 and Ruger Super GP100 revolvers.
8-Shot Revolver Differences
Let’s take a closer look at our three contenders. Their similarities include 100-percent stainless steel construction, all have swing out cylinders and traditional DA/SA trigger systems, their cylinders hold (big surprise) eight rounds of .357 Magnum or .38 Special ammunition. All three feature fully adjustable rear sights and all have exposed hammers that can be cocked for precise, single-action shooting.
But there are also differences. Barrel lengths vary from 5 inches (S&W) to 5.5 inches (Ruger) and 6.5 inches (Taurus). The Ruger stands apart with a unique looking barrel shroud that is ventilated to help cool the barrel and a fluted cylinder that not only reduces weight but looks sexy as all get out. The S&W’s slab-sided barrel is not only distinctive looking but has a full-length under lug—as does the Taurus—to add recoil-dampening weight up front and to protect the ejector rod. And the Taurus stands out with a full-length ventilated rib and is the only one of the trio with a ported barrel to help hold down muzzle flip. Front sights also differ with the S&W having a gold bead up front, while the Ruger’s is a green fiber-optic and our Brazilian entry sports a blade with a red insert.
The S&W and Taurus are both built on their firms’ large revolver frames but the Ruger is unique in that it uses the larger Redhawk frame to allow for the eight-shot cylinder, but the lower section of the frame where the lock works reside is of GP100 size so as to allow for the dual-spring system, which was necessary to refine the trigger pull. Both the Taurus and Ruger use transfer-bar systems to ignite cartridges, while the S&W has a frame-mounted firing pin.
Both the Ruger and the S&W come with wooden grips, although the latter’s box contained a set of Hogue rubber grips. The Taurus features recoil-absorbing rubber grips with finger grooves.
Shooting the Moon
As for these 8-shot revolver options, the S&W and the Ruger both have their cylinders cut to allow the use of full-moon clips. Made of spring steel, these hold eight rounds of ammo and allow very fast reloads and positive unloading.
Since the Taurus does not accept full-moon clips, we contacted 5 Star Firearms (5starfirearms.com) who kindly provided us with several of their eight-round T8-.357/.38 speed loaders. These are machined from billet aluminum and use a twist knob to secure the rounds in the loader body and release them for fast reloading.
Once our trio of revolvers arrived, Becky and I zeroed each at 25 yards with both .38 and .357 ammo and all three showed they were capable of producing groups in the 2-inch range. We then disassembled, cleaned and lubricated each wheelgun, which would be the only maintenance they received. As in past Battle Royale shoot offs, if one malfunctioned at the range we would attempt to correct the problem on site. If that was not possible, the revolver would be scored up to that point and then put aside while we finished testing the remaining handguns.
To have help judging the performance of our three rotating handguns, we contacted long-time Battle Royale participants Richard Cole and Dick Jones. It required little urging for them to assist Becky and I in burning up free ammo. As in the past, we ruminated about the best drills to run the revolvers through and came up with the following:
Plate Rack Drill:
The shooter faces a rack of six steel plates from 8 yards. Upon the signal he lifts his revolver and engages the plates. Score will be the average time for five runs plus a five-second penalty for any plate left standing.
The shooter engages three steel targets offhand, from 10, 15 and 20 yards, with two rounds each. He then performs a speed reload and repeat. Score will be the total time for three runs plus a five-second penalty for any miss.
Steel Ram Drill:
Each shooter engages a steel silhouette ram target with 16 rounds of .357 ammo from 35 yards firing the revolver from an MTM K-Zone rest. Score will be five points for all hits on the target minus five points for any misses. Note that each revolver was cleaned with a brush and lubricated after the first two stages.
Winchester and Sig Sauer kindly provided us with a suitable quantity of 130-grain FMJ .38 Special ammunition for shooting the plate and speed drills, while Black Hills Ammunition sent along a supply of .357 Magnum cartridges loaded with 158-grain JHP bullets to engage the silhouette target. To compare the shooters’ performances, a Competition Electronics Pocket Pro shot timer (competitionelectronics.com) was used to score the plate and speed drills.
As we had done in previous Battle Royales, each revolver was graded on a 1 (worse) to 5 (best) scale in seven categories: reliability, ergonomics, trigger control, sights, recoil control, offhand accuracy and ease of reloading. These were then added together to give each pistol a final score in each category.
Taking advantage of a cool, October morning, the four of us met at the Piedmont Handgunners range in Southmont, N.C. After painting all the targets we proceeded to send rounds down range. While one of us shot, another ran the timer, a third kept score and Becky served as photographer. Once our profligate expenditure of ammunition was completed, we sat down and scored the three 8-shot revolver options.
Explanation of Results
Despite increasing the mainspring pressure on the S&W, we experienced a large number of light strikes/misfires with all three brands of ammo. We could not find anything mechanically wrong with it, but Richard was unable to complete the Steel Ram stage with it when it failed to ignite 10 rounds in a row. We had two light strikes with the Ruger, which went off on a second try, while the Taurus ran like gangbusters with anything we fed it.
The three revolvers all had their controls in the proper positions and were easy to manipulate, but we all criticized the Ruger’s smooth, wooden grips. One of us, who has small hands, found them too large and all of us felt they needed checkering or stripling to improve purchase. While two of us approved of the Smith’s Hogue finger-groove grips, one disliked the way they felt. The Taurus’ grips were hand-filling without being overly large and nicely textured.
The S&W had a smooth, stage-free trigger stroke even when the mainspring was tightened down all the way. All three of us felt the Ruger’s was lighter than the Taurus’ but longer and had a stage in it. While the Brazilian entry’s trigger was the heaviest of the three it had a consistent, stage-free stroke, and the three of us all shot our best times on the Plate Rack drill with it.
With its ported barrel and heavy weight, the Taurus owned this category hands down. Despite their differences in mass, the S&W and Ruger tied here with the Smith having superior grips while the Ruger was heavier.
The Ruger’s bright and fast fiber-optic front sight put it in first place here. While the Taurus’ red insert was not as bright as the Ruger’s, all of us agreed the Smith’s gold bead, while sexy looking, was the slowest to acquire and transition between targets.
This category was a statistical tie as all three revolvers proved they could put rounds where you wanted them as long as the shooter did his part.
The Ruger and S&W both scored low in this category as the three of us experienced a great deal of difficulty with their full-moon clips, which held the cartridges too tight. Cartridges in full-moon clips need a bit of “wiggle” to line them up with the chambers and insert them smoothly. In addition, the Ruger’s large grips interfered when inserting the clips. The 5 Star speed loaders worked as expected and allowed us to recharge the Taurus’ cylinder faster with much less fumbling.
Eight for Sure
In conclusion, aside from the S&W’s ignition problems, we found that these revolvers handled well, with the exception of reloading with the full-moon clips, and were suitably accurate in simple operating drills. For uses where fast reloads are not a determining factor (target shooting and hunting) these 8-shot revolver options should all serve quite well.
It should come as no surprise to the reader that the three of us chose the Taurus as our favorite revolver. Richard put it so well when he opined, “Wonderful to shoot. Nice surprise.”
Smith & Wesson Performance Center M627 Specs
- Caliber: .357 Mag/.38 Spl
- Barrel: 5 inches
- Overall Length: 9.5 inches
- Overall Weight: 43.2 ounces (empty)
- Grips: Wood/synthetic
- Sights: Adjustable rear/gold bead front
- Action: DA/SA
- Finish: Matte Silver
- Overall Capacity: 8
- MSRP: $1,302
Ruger Super GP 100 Specs
- Caliber: .357 Mag/.38 Spl
- Barrel: 5.5 inches
- Overall Length: 11 inches
- Overall Weight: 47 ounces (empty)
- Grips: Hogue hardwood
- Sights: Adjustable rear, fiber-optic front
- Action: DA/SA
- Finish: PVD
- Capacity: 8
- MSRP: $1,549
Taurus Model 608 Specs
- Caliber: .357 Mag/.38 Spl
- Barrel: 6.5 inches
- Overall Length: 11.7 inches
- Overall Weight: 51 ounces (empty)
- Grips: Rubber finger groove
- Sights: Adjustable rear, red insert front
- Action: DA/SA
- Finish: Matte stainless
- Capacity: 8
- MSRP: $760
8-Shot Revolver Scores
This article is from the March-April 2021 issue of Combat Handguns magazine. Grab your copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com.