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Double-action or semi-auto ... The Smith & Wesson Model 386.

The.357 Mag. cartridge is no longer the cartridge of choice, when once it was dominant. The popularity of the semi-auto pistols and their associated calibers have seen to that over the past three decades, but the.357 cartridge and the revolvers designed for it still remain viable and important in a variety of applications; most especially those associated with outdoor activities. The arrival of a Smith & Wesson Model 386 revolver recently reminded me of just how truly good this round and, in this case, the host revolver really is.


Smith & Wesson calls this revolver, built on their L-frame, the Model 386 XL Hunter. The unique feature with this revolver is the combination of a scandium frame, scandium barrel shroud and stainless steel barrel and cylinder. This results in an easy to handle, but full size medium frame revolver with a 6-inch barrel. Yet, it is one that weighs only 30 ounces, empty. Talk about the perfect combination for hiking or back country ventures, this gun has to be a prime candidate.



Revolvers vs. Semi-Autos ...

Few first-time buyers entering the handgun market today even contemplate purchasing a revolver, with the possible exception of those concealed carry five-shot small-frame revolvers. I'm not convinced that's completely a good thing because I go back to my early years and although my very first pistol was a semi-auto, a.22 rim-fire, my next handgun was a Smith & Wesson Model 10 in.38 Spl. with a 6-inch barrel.

Both of those early handguns were 'trainers'. The.22 semi-auto demonstrated to me the need for a good sight picture and a firm grip. The big advantage to it was the fact it was cheap to shoot and the first summer I owned it I put ten bricks (500 rounds) through it trying to figure how you could hit something with the silly thing.

After I became halfway proficient with the.22, I went looking for something larger and that's when I found the six-shot Model 10. It was relatively cheap: used, but in extremely good condition. Its caliber offered me the cheapest possible means of shooting a centerfire handgun. Low-cost.38 Spl. ammunition is not as abundant today as it was when just about every police agency in this country used that caliber in one form or another. But back then it was plentiful, and reloaded.38 Spl. wadcutters were as easy to find as camo clothing is today.


The big advantage of.38 Spl. ammo is the reduced recoil produced by target wadcutter ammunition. I was a shooter moving up from a.22, and learning how to manage recoil; especially during fast follow-up shots, was a task that I had to master. Learning'how to master recoil control is a major aspect to learning any doubleaction, swing-out cylinder revolver.

I explain all this because the Model 386 offers many of the same advantages I found in my youth with that long barreled Model 10, but with features I never dreamed of having with my first Smith & Wesson revolver.

Features of The Model 386

First of all, the Model 386, unlike that old Model: 10, is a seven - rather than a six-shooter. The blackened stainless steel cylinder holds seven rounds of either.357 Mag. or.38 Spl. ammunition.

Let me take a moment and explain what is being discussed with these two calibers. The.357 Mag. and the.38 Spl. essentially use the same projectile. In jacketed bullets they routinely measure.357"; hence the use of these numbers in the original.357 Mag. name.

The.357 Mag. case is rimmed like the.38 Spl in that it has a flange to headspace the round in the cylinder chamber, but it is simply 1/10" longer than the older.38 Spl. case. The greater length is intentional and needed for the increased amount of propellant used in the typical.357 Mag. loading versus the average.38 Spl. powder charge.

Obviously, all.357 Mag. revolvers are built stronger than their.38 Spl. predecessors, but the advantage to any.357 Mag. revolver lies in the fact you can load the same gun with easy recoiling, softer shooting.38s. Then once you've developed some skill with it using.38 Spl. ammunition, it is an easy step up to the more powerful.357 Mag.

The barrel on the Model. 386 is a two piece design in that the outside is not a barrel but actually a scandium/aluminum alloy shroud. The stainless steel barrel is screwed into the scandium/aluminum frame, the cylinder gap, is set between the back of the barrel and the front of the cylinder and everything is locked together with the shroud held firmly in place.

While Smith & Wesson promotes their use of the rare earth metal scandium, one shouldn't get the mistaken impression a lot of it is being used. For some reason, it doesn't take much of it to strengthen aluminum alloys and they are talking about the addition of only 0.05%.

Scandium is not easily found on this planet, with the Scandinavian countries and Madagascar being the frequently mentioned locations. However, it seems that commercially the world source at present is the former USSR as it is salvaged from their de-militarization of weapons. In any event the addition of scandium changes the picture immensely, even if it is expensive.

With the use of scandium, Smith & Wesson is able to achieve that rare combination of strength and light weight together to create a series of firearms that used to be the stuff of-wistful dreams. Of course, you can have too much of a good thing and I think that's what happened in the past with the.41 and.44 Mag. products featuring scandium frames and barrel shrouds.

Quite simply, those powerful cartridges, when fired in a lightweight revolver, produce sudden and powerful recoil forces for the shooter. I will get into my impressions of the shooting the Model 386 in a moment, but let me say I feel the application of this technology in this specific instance is far more practical than the previous attempts.

The gun itself is finished in flat black and comes with the now-mandated key-operated internal trigger lock. It can be found on the left side of the frame, just above the cylinder latch.


As with all the current production Smith & Wesson revolvers the firing pin is internal and not part of the hammer nose. This makes the face of the hammer flat and relatively featureless. The hammer spur is of a medium width and not as wide as the old 'target' style hammer, but still greater in dimension than the old standard narrow hammer spur. The hammer spur features coarse checkering for improved acquisition during single action cocking of the hammer. The trigger has no sharp edges and is contoured for easy double-action firing. The face of the trigger is non-serrated, flat and smooth.



The sights on the Model 386 XL Hunter are, as you would expect: on a Smith & Wesson revolver, excellent. They consist of a fully adjustable rear sight featuring a white-outline surrounding the wide U-notch in the rear sight blade. The front sight is a bright red fiber optic insert fixed atop a tall blade. In just about any kind of sunlight it is virtually impossible to ignore this red colored dot and is fast in terms of its visual acquisition.

The frame on the Model 386 XL is a round-butt design, but the gun comes with Hogue black synthetic finger-groove grips. Many believe soft synthetic grips help manage vigorous felt recoil, while others (and I say this laughingly) feel the grips give the revolver a "running star" before impacting into your hand. I've never been an advocate for synthetic grips simply because they grab covering garments, which admittedly shouldn't be a problem with this specific product, as it really isn't a concealed carry handgun. I've always preferred either wood, stag or ivory grips, but I have to admit that one of my personal scandium-framed larger caliber revolvers has these same synthetic grips and they are the only ones I can use to manage the recoil of that pistol.


Shooting the Smith & Wesson Model 386 XL loaded with Black Hills.38 Spl. 125-grain JHP loads reminded me very much of working with my father's Model 17 in.22 Long Rifle with its light recoil and 6-inch barrel. These loads made the Model 386 XL a very pleasant and easy revolver to shoot and enjoy. I was also surprised by the velocities this load registered when it was chronographed out of the test revolver. It averaged 939 fps, which for this caliber is certainly respectable.

When I loaded seven rounds of the ever popular 125-grain JHP.357 Mag. loads from either Black Hills or Winchester into the Model 386 XL, velocities stepped up significantly, but the recoil was not at all unpleasant. (I realize that is a subjective statement, but one I stand by.) Both loads were over 1400 fps in muzzle velocity; the Black Hills load registered 1421 fps while the Winchester load went 1478.

I also pulled out of storage one of my old handloads using the 173-grain cast Keith SWC bullet and a healthy charge of 2400. It averaged 1170 fps and, surprisingly, the recoil felt softer and lighter than the previous factory 125-grain.357 Mag. loads.


With its empty weight of 30 ounces, the Smith & Wesson Model 386 XL is to my mind an extremely attractive revolver for those seeking either a reasonable hunting handgun, a backwoods trail gun or a revolver for the family that is capable of serving multiple needs and purposes .357 Mag. revolvers are not as popular today as they once were, but that doesn't mean they are not practical and in some cases excellent choices for the handgun consumer.

The Smith & Wesson Model 386 XL has a MSRP of $899 and represents an extremely good and versatile product for the hand gun consumer.
Smith & Wesson Model 386 XL Hunter

Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson, 2100 Roosevelt Avenue,
 Dept. SGN, Springfield, MA 01104,
 Tel: 413-781-8300, Fax: 413-747-3655,

Model: Model 386 XL Hunter, SKU #164298

Mechanism Type: Double-action revolver

Caliber: .357 Mag. and/or.38 Spl,

Overall Length: 11.875 inches

Weight: 30ounces

Barrel Length: 6 inches

capacity 7

Finish: Matte black

Grips: Synthetic

Front Sight: Hi-Viz fiber optic red

Rear Sight: Fully adjustable

MSRP: $899
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Author:James, Frank W.
Publication:Shotgun News
Date:Sep 10, 2011
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