I just happen to love wheel guns. Don’t get me wrong, I have half dozed auto pistols and they are all great for their intended purpose, but I also have a couple of black-powder Navy Colts so, for me, the modern wheel guns, is a happy middle. No slide to come back and wound you if you leave your thumb hanging in the wind while firing, they do not jam (though I am sure that comment alone will elicit stories on how someone’s has), and in the right holster they just look mean.
Since I have had my nickel-plated .357 S&W for more years than I will admit when the chance presented itself to compare it to S&W’s new MP R8 .357 I was all-in instantly. The old started with an advantage as it is the most consistently accurate handgun I own and I have been shooting it for decades. On many a dirt-bike rides to nowhere in the Mojave Desert, that shiny pistol riding on my hip brought an instant “mellow” to the two-legged denizens who would cross my path. But the new has made me a fan.
To be accurate, even though the new barrel is only three-quarters of an inch longer, measuring from frame to end at 4″ vs 3.25″, my first impression was that the new was more front-heavy than I expected and was heavier than the old in spite of it having a scandium alloy frame vs all cold nickel-plated steel. I weighed them both unloaded, 2.2 lbs. each. I had several other experienced shooters compare the weight and 2 out of 3 declared the old heavier. Perceptions.
We used both the Armscor 38 Special 158 Grain FMJ and the Federal American Eagle .357 Magnum 158 Grain FMJ in range testing.
I was able to be just as accurate with the new S&W after only a couple of cylinders of firing either round, this at a range of 5 yards. The recoil was surprisingly minimal, compared to my Glock 36 (.45 ACP) 😉 and my Beretta Serie 80 in .380 auto as my mental bookends. Moving back to 10 yards they were still comparable, which was excellent.
The good points of the new MP R8:
- Love the improved grip of the MP R8; synthetic just feels more secure, solid hold
- The balance of the overall weapon was excellent; my front-heavy first impression erased
- Love the extra two rounds – 7 vs 5, accounting for the always required empty chamber for the hammer to rest upon for any wheel gun
- The sites as set at the factory were spot-on
- Compatible with the Speed Beez S&W 327 and 627 Speed loaders
- Love that it is set up for a light as every home defense weapon should have a light so you can see who you are shooting in the dark, awakened from a deep sleep.
- And yes, like tracers, lights work both ways but the risk is worth not hurting a family member.
The not-so-good points:
- I don’t get to take the new one home with me
- The new does not fit in my old Bianchi #5BH leather holster, but I could have lived with that
- The nickel-plate has withstood the test of time, only time and use will tell on the Black Matte finish
Stating the obvious, I would not consider the S&W MP R8 as a CCW, but as a back-up in a bug-out bag, range bag, SHTF bag, it would be my current choice. A lot of bang for the buck. It is good to see that S&W still produces real quality.