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Smith & Wesson Model 696 - .44 Special Revolver

The Smith and Wesson 696 is a stainless steel, L-frame, 5-shot revolver chambered in .44 Special.   Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of it, I hadn't until I saw this one at a gun show.  The price was right, so I snapped it up.

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The 696 features a 3" barrel with full shroud, a round butt, and came with Uncle Mikes Combat Grips from the factory.   It has a smooth combat trigger, red ramp front sight, and a white outlined adjustable rear sight (I've always liked these).   The fit and finish is typical of stainless S&W revolvers from this period (in other words, it's adequate, but not as good as older or very new models).  This revolver was manufactured for only 5 years - from 1997-2002.  I'm not sure of the exact quantity that were produced, but there are not too many of these around.

Mine is a desirable "no dash" 696.   The early no-dash versions feature case-hardened hammer and trigger, hammer-mounted firing pin, and no internal lock.   This changed (for the worse) with the later versions.   The 696-1 went to a frame-mounted firing pin and Metal Injection Molded (MIM) hammer and trigger.   The 696-2 added the stupid lock.

The first thing I noticed about this revolver was the trigger - it is amazing.   The double action pull is smooth and light, the single action trigger is like breaking the proverbial glass rod.  I bought this at the LaRocca Gun Works table at the Marlboro (MA) gun show; this might have something to do with it.

It's a good size for carry, and weighs in at 36 ounces unloaded.   You might be thinking, "Why would anyone want to carry this as opposed to a Model 686 .357?"   I can answer that in one word: "recoil", or more specifically, lack thereof.   The recoil was unexpectedly light.  The first time I pulled the trigger on this, I was amazed at the lack of recoil.   It was like shooting a light .38 load.   The two other shooters that tried it said the same thing.   It was a gentle push rather than a snap.   I was firing some 240 grain lead cowboy loads from Magtech.

Tele_mark from Northeast Shooters and myself ran a box of ammo through it. After he left, and as I was leaving, one of my fellow club members pulled up, so I unpacked and shot it with him for a while - using up another box of ammo. My best group size was a disappointing 3" at 50'. I'm going to blame a lot of that on the cold; because it was friggin' cold when we were shooting (22F) - and it seemed to feel even colder when you were standing in it for almost 3 hours.

One thing I learned when buying ammo for this: If you're going to shoot a .44 Special, you should seriously consider reloading. At over $20/box for the "cheap" stuff, you'd go broke quick if you wanted to shoot it a lot. Fortunately, I do reload. I've got some dies, brass and 240 grain plated bullets for it so I'm going to make up a variety of loads using Bullseye, W231, and Titegroup so I can figure out what it likes.

UPDATE:   After a bunch of testing, I found that the best all around load for this gun and a 240 grain plated bullet was 4.4 grains of Titegroup.

I'm a big S&W fan, and I love this revolver. I consider myself extremely lucky to have found this gun at the price I paid. A quick check on Gunbroker showed that the last three used Model 696s went for $715, $745, & $885.  

Report by EddieCoyle - 2/11/2007, modified 7/11/2007