Smith & Wesson Model 66, by Pat Cascio

Today, we are looking at the S&W Model 66 stainless steel 2.75-inch barrel handgun on the popular K Frame. With so many requests from SurvivalBlog readers, we are covering this, another good ol’ fashioned revolver.

Early Years Carrying a Revolver

Truth be told, in my early years as a police officer, private security contractor, and private investigator, I carried a revolver for the simple fact that in Illinois, at least at that time, you were required to only carry a 4-inch barrel revolver when doing private security. As a police officer in various areas of the country, I was pretty much allowed to carry just about any type of handgun I wanted. Still, more often than not, I’d reach for a Smith & Wesson revolver in .38 Spl or .357 Magnum.

Back in the day, the two most popular revolvers were the S&W K Frame with a 4-inch barrel for a full-sized duty handgun or a Colt revolver, once again with a 4-inch barrel. It’s hard to go wrong with either one of those choices. The S&W K frame revolver design is well over a hundred years old and has a proven track record. And, I always found it was easier to get a better double-action trigger pull on the K frame as opposed to a Colt.

Revolver for Self Defense or Survival

Many people today believe that a revolver is an “antique” and not suitable for self defense use or survival. I couldn’t disagree more. For sure, you are usually limited to a “mere” six shots in a S&W Model 66 revolver. However, a reload or two using HKS Speed Loaders, will keep you in the fight. If you can’t get the job done with 12-18 rounds of ammo on-tap, you did something wrong and should have brought along an AR or AK to save your bacon. And, remember that, only hits count in a gun fight. You don’t want to aimlessly send rounds down range without having a target. Yeah, I know, in all the Hollywood movies, the good and bad guys seem to have semi-auto handguns that have an endless supply of ammo on-tap. If that were only so…

Short Story

Here’s a short story, but it’s worth mentioning again. When I was a supervisor and K-9 handler for a large security company back in Chicago, one of my officers (who was also a friend of mine since we grew up together) was having problems keeping people away from a huge electrical power plant that was being decommissioned. People were stealing the huge coils of copper. Truth be told, we should have had at least two or three officers protecting that property. The plant was more than a city block long; it was huge.

There was a problem with some toughs in the neighborhood, who were determined to steal some of that copper no matter what. One evening, I camped out with my officer, with the hopes of catching these guys in the act of stealing. I also had one of my K-9s with me. He was a huge sable-colored German Shepherd named Max, and he hated other dogs, period!

We had scared off these guys once that night, but they returned, bringing their mutt of a dog along. All I had to do was turn Max loose, and they all took off running. I believe some of those guys outran their own dog. Later on that evening, they returned and opened fire on us. I returned fire with my company-issued S&W Model 10, heavy barrel K frame revolver. I intentionally fired over their heads, not wanting to kill anyone. Only thing is, I was young and dumb and the only ammo I had were the six rounds in the gun.

That was not a good thing. Luckily, those guys never came back. So, I learned many years ago to always carry one or two reloads for a revolver or semi-auto handgun. I certainly didn’t feel undergunned, but I was stupid for not carrying some extra ammo. I never made that mistake again!

Still Reach For a Good Ole’ Fashioned Revolver

Even today, I’ll reach for a good ol’ fashioned revolver when I leave the house. Maybe it is just nostalgia, but I don’t feel outgunned with just six rounds in the gun and a couple speed loaders ready to go. I stoke my .357 Magnum revolvers with .357 Mag ammo, if the gun is to be used as a house gun. The sound of a .357 Mag being fired inside of a dwelling is deafening, to say the least. When out and about, I’ll have the gun loaded with full-power .357 Mag loads. This is one of the advantages of having a gun chambered in .357 Mag; you can stoke it with .38 Spl loads or full power .357 Mag loads. That’s nice! And, needless to say, the .38 Spl loads are much more controllable, too.

Snubby S&W Model 19

When not working in the state of Illinois, I often carried a snubby S&W Model 19 with a 2.5-inch barrel. It was a popular choice back then, and it’s still a good choice today, if you ask me.

S&W Model 66 Snubby

The S&W Model 66 snubby has a 2.75-inch barrel, which is a quarter inch longer than the Model 19’s barrel. I don’t know the thinking behind this, but the gun is still very concealable. That extra quarter inch isn’t hurting anything.

Model 66 Also Called the Combat Magnum

The Model 66 is also called the Combat Magnum, and it is manufactured out of stainless steel with a nice brushed finish to it that is not shinny at all. It holds 6-rds. The front sight is a red ramp, and the rear sight is S&W’s famous adjustable one with a black blade. The gun can be fired single-action by thumb cocking the hammer back, or double-action my simply pulling the trigger. In single-action, the trigger broke right at 3.5-lbs, and the longer, double-action pull was very smooth and broke at 12-lbs. The grips are black synthetic and appear to be made by Hogue. Original guns came with wood grips. However, the synthetic grips are more comfortable to shoot with. Weight unloaded is 33.5 ounces, and with a good fitting holster on your belt, you soon forget you’re carrying this little power house.

Stainless Steel Gun

In my neck of the woods– western Oregon, a good stainless steel gun is the way to go in order to ward off rust. Stainless steel will rust, but it rusts less. So, the stainless steel is an asset around where I live. It’s either that or a high-tech coating of some type required on the entire gun.

Ammo Used For Model 66 Testing

I had a decent selection of .38 Spl and .357 Mag ammo to run through the Model 66. From Black Hills Ammunition,  I had their .38 Spl 100-gr HoneyBadger +P all copper bullet with the fluted design, which is the wave of the future if you ask me. I also had their 158-gr CNL Cowboy Load, and this was mild, at only 800-fps. In .357 Mag, I had their 125-gr JHP and their 158-gr JHP; both are great fight stoppers. From Buffalo Bore Ammunition, I had their .38 Spl +P Outdoorsman Hard Cast Load, which is a great round to carry out in the boonies since it’ll penetrate deeply and get the job done.

I also had their 125-gr Barnes SPB load that is low-recoil, designed for short barreled handguns, and the same load in 128-gr, and their .357 Mag Outdoorsman load with the Hard Cast bullet– another outstanding load for out in the wilderness. From Double Tap Ammo, I had their 125-gr JHP, 158-gr JHP, and their 180-gr Hard Cast solid. In .38 Spl, I also had their full wadcutter load for very soft shooting; it’s great for punching paper.

Accuracy Testing Results

Accuracy testing was done over a rolled-up sleeping bag on my Jeep Wrangler with the target at 25 yards. In all, I fired about 300 rounds of ammo without any problems. I didn’t think there would be any either. If I did my part, I could keep the rounds beneath three inches. Quite often, they were down to two inches.

One load stood out. That was the Black Hills Cowboy Load. I could consistently keep those rounds under two inches all day long, and it was a mild load to shoot, too.

Well Armed and Protected

Combined with a couple speed loaders and a good holster on your hip, you’re pretty well armed and protected from two-legged and four-legged threats with the Model 66. For fun shooting, you can find some inexpensive, all things considered, SWC .38 Spl ammo or lead round nose. Just make sure you give your gun a good cleaning afterwards. That lead really gets a gun dirty. Save the full-powered .357 Mag loads for serious self-defense. You could do a lot worse than a good “old” fashioned revolver these days, for most of your needs.


  1. I’m old school I do carry my mod 66 2/12 every day in winter in summer as it’s not quite as concealable I carry my sw mod 60 ss 38. I’ve had my mod 66 which I brought new in the early 80’s.

  2. That was a good article pat. When I was a young man in the seventies we had a very competitive. Shooting program in my home town. The most common combat format then was PPC shooting that required the use of a six shot 38 Special revolver. I competed for several years and was a flanked shooter in this club and other meets in our region. I have never felt that a revolver was a disadvantage. I carry a revolver and two speed loaders as my every day carry gun now and never leave home without it. I really enjoy your articles, keep up the good work.

  3. First carry was a 1981 Colt Dective Special (old IL-boy) which agreed is more concealable than a Glock and an appropriate wedding present for my son. Wheel gun lover!

  4. Great article. Pat’s articles are always my favorite reading on Survival Blog. My go to gun his the model 66. My gun is a 4 inch barrel and is very accurate and defines “ reliability “. When you pull the trigger it goes “ bang”. Never a jam. Thanks Pat. Keep up good articles.

  5. Glad to see so many old school readers like myself – just hard to go wrong with a good ol’ fashioned revolver…and with practice, it only takes a few seconds to do a speed reload with HKS speedloaders – and after the initial exchange of gun fire in a deadly situation, one should be behind cover to reload.

  6. One thing about the new Combat Magnum – at least part of the reason for the extra quarter-inch is that they give you a full-length ejection rod (or so it looks to me). That makes reloading, and handling in general, MUCH better. My favorite carry is a 3-inch GP100. I’ve never been able to beat a 3 to 4 inch .357 for unmatched utility and dependability.

  7. This does not just have “old school” appeal. As someone who did not grow up around guns, I have found revolvers to be a much more comfortable choice because of the simplicity of the design and the pure mechanical functionality. If I do my job, a revolver will ALWAYS do the rest. Frees up the mind for the task at hand especially when there are not decades of muscle memory to depend on.

  8. Pat,

    I thoroughly enjoyed the write up. I attached a couple of pix. I was a part-time law enforcement officer for Dallas County, TX, for 28 years. Early on when working in plain clothes I carried a S&W M66-2 with the short barrel. When my father would see the gun he always remarked on how much he loved its looks. Fast forward, over three years I bought a 4″ gun from a friend with a gun shop, bought a 2.75″ barrel from Numrich and shipped them to the S&W Performance Center. They changed the barrel and then I had some additional work done to that one and my old carry gun. For my dad’s 80th birthday my wife and I gave him the gun that matches mine, along with two styles of Galco leather holsters, double speedloader carriers and a couple of speedloaders, a box of .38SPL +P and .357 Magnum. He nearly cried. My wife and I generally carry Glock 23s day-to-day, but we both love that S&W. Thanks again for your write up.

  9. My Dad, a DC police officer, carried three different weapons over his career. Started with a Colt .45 long revolver that DC got from the Army, so it was likely about fifty years old when they issued it to him. Then a .38 Spl large frame when he was a Sergeant, and finally a five shot .38 Spl snub nose while a Lieutenant and Captain. We used to debate whether a revolver or a semi-auto was better, with me favoring my Army M1911. Dad was of the opinion that the average police officer only cleaned his revolver once a year, after re-qualifying, and that if they carried 1911’s they would be too dirty to fire after six months in the holster. I couldn’t argue with him on that.

  10. WOW! A real steel revolver! One of my favorite carry guns is a Colt Detective. Easy to conceal, even in summer. And yes, I shoot it regularly. Currently on the hunt for a S&W M36 Chief. Love those old wheel guns!

    1. Good luck on your hunt for the M36. I carried one for a number of years. Never felt under-gunned. Unfortunately I sold it. Now I miss it.
      The thing about snubbies is you could always use the “New York Reload”.
      Remember the TV show Berreta. That’s what he did. One in an ankle holster as I recall.

  11. Pat, Since I started prepping back in ’07 I’ve acquired about a dozen pistols. Safety is my utmost concern, the only semi-auto pistol I’ll carry with a round in the chamber is my 1911 because of it’s multiple safety’s, that said I have gained some experience with both types of pistols and I much prefer my revolvers as I carry them ‘cowboy’ style with hammer down on an empty chamber. I don’t feel that I’m at a disadvantage for doing so and feel that I can actually bring my revolver to bear more quickly than I could a semi-auto that I would have to rack a round into. Then too revolvers are quicker to clear of a miss-fire, just pull the trigger again, or a jam, nothing to jam or miss-feed on a revolver vs a semi auto. I’ll take that ‘old fashioned’ tech any day. I like and enjoy your articles so keep ’em coming.

  12. I lived for four years north of the Brooks range in bush Alaska. Always, and I mean always, carried a model 19 in my Carhart jacket pocket. 00 buck was in my 870 when my hands were free. I always felt at ease around wild life and only rarely had to defend myself. Wolverines, bears, wolves , moose and once, a lovesick walrus. All wonderful stories and great memories. The model 19, 66 and other k frame Smith and Wesson were the smallest frame yet controllable ,magnum round, hand gun. At -45 F, no one trusted a semi auto.

  13. I carried a S & W Model 66 when fellow officers were going to Glocks. The first two times I used a Glock during target practice, it jammed. That is two out of 18 available rounds that I hoped to fire. I could not clear it in the field. It could have been the ammo, of course. Recent models of Ruger and Sig Sauer semi-autos seem to do okay. But, I certainly have more confidence in a revolver and it is still my preference. I have had a cartridge swell and refuse to be ejected form a 66 but in a pinch, one still has five chambers you can reload.

  14. S&W revolvers are in my opinion the “gold standard” for reliability and simplicity. I am 67 years of age and grew up with guns, I’ve owned many. As a young boy I followed behind my father who carried a 16 gauge double while hunting pheasant and rabbit in southwest Michigan. I bought my first handgun, a Colt Python, when I was about 25, and have added numerous firearms over the years. I accumulated quite a collection, and recently decided to clean house and keep only the guns I actually use. I traded four or five guns and bought a couple new ones. My goal was to own only what I would carry and use. In the end I have two trusted S&W revolvers, a model 60 and a M&P 340, both .357 Mag. These are my “go to” firearms as I walk out the door. And yes, I have my .40 Glock which is a fine firearm, yet my comfort level is with the S&W revolvers. Always loved them, always will.

  15. My EDC is a 4″ Colt Python(’68 vintage) with two Five Star Firearms speed loaders carried in Jox loader pouches.

    Most of my handguns are revolvers. And I carry a revolver for a good many of the reasons Pat gave above. Two other reasons were accuracy and the rule of three’s, 3 shots, 3 yards, 3 seconds. Still carry 12 extra rounds. 🙂

    I often find that there are shooters that will quickly criticize my EDC but can’t give me an explanation for their choice of Carry Weapon other than more bullets.

  16. In the late 80’s I worked as a police officer in the SF Bay Area. The entire department carried Mdl 66 S&W. Patrol carried 4″ and Plain Clothes carried 2.5″. We all used the same .357 ammo. One morning 6 members of my shift finished a graveyard shift and headed to the range. 5 out of 6 of us suffered jams and malfunctions that precluded firing any additional rounds. My cylinder was so jammed into the frame that it was eventually shipped loaded, for repairs. Another near by agency had so many similar incidents that they declared a state of emergency that allowed officers to throw away their Mdl 66 and carry something else until the Agency could purchase Mdl 686 for everyone. My agency continued with the MDL 66 until more than a year later we switched to 7906/6906 9mm. With that being said and now long retired I still carry a Mdl 66. I NEVER run .357 through them and have never had a misfire with the .38 +P I shoot with.

    1. I believe that some of the Model 66’s shipped in the mid-80s had problems and were not up to previous standards. Nevertheless, I prefer S & W over their biggest competitor of that era.

  17. I love the Mdl 66. I used to have a 4 in version. I learned from a gun magazine article that due to the forcing cone not having enough support, they can start cracking if too many 357 cartridges are used. It recommended practising with 38 spl and only use 357 when carrying for self defense use.

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