I was in the market for a .38 special so I rented some revolvers at the local gun range. My two choices to test were as stated above. If you read the reviews of the Model 686 online you will hear almost universally that the Smith has a better trigger. I concur and add that it is more than better, it is much better. Admittedly these were range guns but I tried two different Smiths in this model just to make sure what I was experiencing was not an anomaly. The accuracy afforded by the very smooth and crisp trigger of the 686 would be the decisive factor in a purchase.
I had to shoot .357 magnum to use these guns since that was a range requirement and with that came back the realization of why I gave up on .357 decades ago. Even with the heavy weight of each of these weapons the recoil was beyond stout and moved into ridiculous unless you had the plan for self defense to only ever need one round. In bear country I could see this as a justification. Multiple shots took a long time for recovery and I admit that I haven’t trained to it and at this late age don’t have any desire to do so. My arms felt like hamburger after just 50 rounds shooting from both right and left sides to balance the punishment. Those of you under 40 will learn later about how your body doesn’t like this type of punishment as you age.
Here is a silhouette I shot from 25 feet with the S&W Model 686 as an example of the accuracy you can find with this gun in single action and with further practice I imagine it would have been a clover leaf.
25 Feet Single Action with S&W Model 686 – .358 JHP 125 gr.
Next we go to the GP 100. I didn’t even bother to show you my terrible results with that gun and yes it could have been that one weapon but I can tell you that the trigger is nowhere as good as the Smith though I suppose with gunsmith work it could be. The husky and overbuilt frame of the GP100 did seem to absorb the recoil well enough but that is not the deal breaker since I wouldn’t have planned on shooting .357 anyway and instead would have gone for .38 Special.
As for the touted strength advantage of the Ruger over the Smith I will have to say that unless proven by statistics and testing I cannot accept extra metal as proof of sturdiness. An example that comes to mind is the CZ52 that looks like a tank but in real world results the Tokarev pistol is much safer and less likely to self destruct based on actual reported incidents.
To let you know that I am not against Ruger or for Smith & Wesson in general I will tell you that I have had more Ruger handguns in my collection than Smiths over the years but in this case it is clear where the best choice is especially if you consider the approximately $200 difference. I’d pay the extra and get the factory excellent trigger and beautifully refined ergonomics and aesthetic appeal of the Model 686. The price difference is not enough to sway the decision in favor of the GP100 for me.