Smith & Wesson is the leader in revolver design and manufacturing. Its newest design comes from the Performance Center line: the S&W Model 986 seven-shooter in 9mm Luger.

Even today, when semi-automatic handgun designs reign supreme, the defensive revolver is FAR from dead. There are still enough people out there — young, old and in-between — to support a thriving trade in revolvers.

Custom Features for Factory Prices

The Performance Center line provides S&W customers with handguns that have custom features priced at points not far above standard factory guns. While Performance Center guns are not necessarily hand-built custom pieces, they feature enhancements that make them much more visually and functionally appealing.

The 986 is basically a Performance Center 686 seven-shot .357 Magnum revolver adapted to the 9mm Luger semi-automatic pistol cartridge. I tested and continue to utilize the seven-shot 686 as a carry, home-defense and trail gun. The 986 should prove nearly as good when charged with heavy 9mm loadings.

The S&W 986 is a solid pistol of all-stainless-steel construction, weighing in at 31.7 ounces. While the weight of the 986 is obviously more substantial than a J-frame snubbie, those additional ounces really soak up the recoil from full-power 9mm cartridges.

The stainless steel is matte-finished to reduce glare, but not so much that it won’t get the attention of those criminals who have demanded to see the business end of it. I have always felt that there is no handgun quite so intimidating at close range as a large, fully loaded revolver charged with brightly jacketed hollow-point bullets. The 986 is particularly intimidating with seven charged cylinders, including the one in the barrel in full view from the wrong end.

Premium Downrange Delivery

Speaking of the barrel, the 2.5-inch length is ideal for a large L-frame snub-nosed revolver in terms of pointability. A 3-inch barrel would be ungainly. Only 148-feet-per-second average velocity was lost over the factory quoted velocity from the 2.5-inch tube. The crown is match-grade.

SIG Sauer 9mm NATO 124-grain V-Crown +P  Velocity Energy Expanded Hatcher RSP (as tested)
Factory 1198 >395 39
Tested 1050 304 X


The cylinder is unfluted, giving the 986 a striking appearance, and is constructed of titanium for rapid firing and manipulation. The cylinder is shortened to better accommodate the 9mm cartridge. The forcing cone is lengthened to make up the difference. This arrangement gives the bullet an actual path of travel under confinement of 3.5 inches from the inside of the cylinder — through the forcing cone and out the muzzle. This explains the small amount of velocity lost.

The action of the 986 has been tuned for smooth operation. The smooth-faced trigger is hard-chrome-plated for crispness and has a trigger stop adjustment screw. I found no need to mess with it because the pull is superb. The 986 can also be cocked for single-action fire via the custom-shaped hammer spur. Finger-groove custom wood grips provide excellent control yet remain highly concealable.

Yes, It Requires Full Moon Clips

Since the 986 fires the rimless 9mm cartridge, the use of full moon clips is required for proper function. Full moon clips are star-shaped pieces of spring steel that lock in the rims of the 9mm cartridges for proper positioning in the cylinder. Their use allows rapid reloading.

Unlike Smith & Wesson .45 ACP revolvers, the 986 cannot fire 9mm cartridges without the use of the full moon clips. This is not a huge deal since anyone who carries a semi-auto pistol tends to keep spare magazines on hand. At the range, I used a #2 lead pencil to remove the empty cases from the clips by inserting the eraser end into the empty case and pulling outward.

I tested the 986 with SIG Sauer’s new 9mm NATO +P Military Grade ammo loaded with the 124-grain V-Crown bullet. Double-action accuracy at 30 feet was excellent due to its easy-to-see orange insert front sight coupled with a fully adjustable plain black rear sight. The excellent trigger and recoil-reducing weight aided with accuracy as well.

Only two full moon clips were included with the 986. (There ought to be a pack of at least 10 included since the clips are steel stampings and cost relatively nothing — especially since they are required to run the gun.)

If you are seeking a defensive carry revolver that stands out in a crowd, take a look at the 986. It gives the 9mm Luger additional reliability and versatility. MSRP is $1,129.


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