S&W’s Performance Center Model 986 9mm

Proof Even Mark Can Learn Something New

By Mark Hampton

S&W’s Performance Center Model 986 in 9mm with 2.5″ barrel is a lot of gun in a small package.

When His Editorship suggested I do some work with a Smith & Wesson Performance Center gun I was eager to jump on the ship. This was until I found out the gun was a 2.5″ 9mm revolver. While I didn’t say anything with my “outside” voice, I was certainly thinking, “What am I going to do with this?” After all, don’t we have enough semi autos of every conceivable configuration available in 9mm? Why does anyone need a 9mm revolver? It was challenging, but I tried my best to go into this project with an open mind.

Right off, and against my better judgment, I liked the looks of this little revolver. It came with a nice hard case and two moonclips included. The gun itself is attractive, with a glass-bead finish and nice-looking wood grips. Fit and finish were exactly what you would expect from the Performance Center — excellent. The titanium alloy unfluted cylinder was cut for moonclips and has a capacity of seven rounds. The slab-sided 2.5″ custom barrel wears a recessed precision crown with Performance Center etched on the right side, 9mm on the left. The reddish orange ramped front sight is dovetailed into the barrel. The rear sight is fully adjustable with an all-black square notch.

Those good-looking custom grips are lightly textured and contrast well with the stainless frame. The front of the trigger is wide and smooth with a trigger overtravel stop featured behind the trigger. The rear portion of the hammer spur is serrated and made for reliable cocking in single-action mode. My test gun’s trigger broke at 4.3 pounds in single action, minus any gritty feel. The double-action pull was a tad heavy for my likes, but it was crisp and smooth. Overall the revolver tips the scales around two pounds when empty.

The 7-shot titanium cylinder uses moonclips for fast reloads and reliable operation.

At seven yards with American Eagle Syntech ammo the 9mm 986 shot like a laser. Mark feels
it’d make a great defensive gun as well as a tidy field gun for potting small game
or general back-up work. It’s plenty accurate for 25-yard rabbits!

Unlike many autos, one of the charms of a revolver is it will run any type of semi-auto ammo
it’s chambered for! Mark had exactly zero glitches during his test.

Attitude Adjustment

It didn’t take long to appreciate the Performance Center tuned action. After all, this is a hand-fitted, hand-tuned revolver and the action is smooth and slick. I’m thinking if you wanted to lighten the DA a bit, you could have the work done, but in all honesty, once I got shooting, I didn’t notice any issues at all. I loaded a truck full of 9mm ammo and headed for the range to see how this finely tuned revolver performed.

During the testing phase, with my shooting buddy John, we launched a variety of bullet weights from Winchester, Federal, Black Hills, HPR, Hornady’s Critical Defense and DoubleTap. From previous 9mm evaluations I’ve been fond of American Eagle Syntech ammo — the stuff looking like red lipstick. Their 115-gr. load is clean burning and developed specifically for range work. It’s designed to reduce fouling, using a high-tech polymer bullet coating — giving it the lipstick appearance. Most of the range work found 115-gr. FMJ bullets from all manufacturers to work well, but those 77-gr. lead-free hollow point bullets in the DoubleTap line are serious contenders for personal safety.

We engaged targets from 7 to 15 yards with all brands of ammunition. The supplied moonclips made loading easy and quick. Most of our shooting was undertaken in single-action mode, off-hand, since we’re essentially handgun hunters forced into this new arena getting to know about defensive revolvers! The gun points well and we could align the sights on target quickly. We never encountered any mishaps during a lengthy shooting session. Wife Karen joined in the fun and I could detect she was enjoying herself — maybe a little too much. I wasn’t planning on purchasing this gun but Karen quickly gained confidence in the revolver. After shooting several rounds she said, “This would make a good gun for home protection.” And she’s right. Low recoil, lightweight, sure reloads and reliable action all translates into confidence, which is what you need in a defensive handgun, right? I’ll be writing this check.

Federal’s Syntech ammo uses a polymer coating on the bullets to help keep
range pollution down. It does look a bit like red lipstick though!

The Model 986 (lower) in comparison to an older Model 37, Airweight .38 Special. The 986 gives
you two more shots, modern design and construction, full-moonclip loading and adjustable sights!

New Ideas?

After shooting the PC Model 986, I have experienced a bit of attitude adjustment. I can see where this revolver deserves a respectful position in our shooting gallery. First, it goes along nicely with other semi-auto 9mm guns I have in the arsenal. The same ammo for both types of guns plus you can find cheap 9mm ammo almost anywhere makes perfect sense. Karen enjoyed shooting the S&W as much as we did and she feels more comfortable with the revolver over the semi-auto.

My wife is probably not the only person concerned with personal safety to appreciate the reliability of a revolver. Karen also enjoys knowing she can shoot this revolver in single- or double-action mode. This 7-shot PC gun makes an ideal bedside piece for home defense. It also serves well as a vehicle gun on road trips since it’s compact and handy. It also makes a great little field pocket-pistol when you’re away from home. The adjustable sights and good single-action trigger means small game up to 25 yards is a piece of cake.

Semi autos may be trendy today but don’t ever think the revolver is dead. For home or personal defense — and especially for revolver aficionados — this S&W Performance Center Model 986 in the classic 9mm makes a good choice for a variety of reasons. Karen wants to keep this one — and this is good enough reason for me. Even old guys like me can indeed learn new things, it seems.

For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/index

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