Sadly, these wheelguns just don’t have what it takes to overcome the capacity advantage of semiautos.
The only way to learn about a gun is to shoot it in competition. When we go to our “We Wish We Knew Then What We Know Now File,” we find that a recent IPSC/Action project gun based on a Taurus 608 revolver just does not cut the mustard. We are saddened by this, much like we would be if we were divorcing a new spouse. The relationship started with such promise, but, ultimately, we would say sayonara to the 608 because of design and manufacturing problems that make it unsuitable for hard competition use. Unlike a wife, we didn’t take a pledge to honor the Taurus in sickness and in health. Instead, we started shopping for her replacement.
Our search led us to a Smith & Wesson 627. Our goal when hopping up the Taurus was to see if we could come up with a gun that would be suitable for more than one game within a $1,000 budget. The MSRP of the S&W; (product number) 170089 is $999.95 straight out of the company’s Performance Center gunsmithing shop—a thin nickel below our cap. We hoped the eight-shot Smith wouldn’t exhibit the failures we noted in the Taurus, which we detail below, and we bravely held that a wheelgun could be competitive as a speed gun yet maintain the accuracy and handling characteristics needed for more precise action shooting. However, we were again disappointed, for reasons we detail below.
Fatal Problems With The Taurus
In the August 1997 issue, we described the steps we thought necessary to make a stock Taurus 608 .357 Magnum revolver into a handgun suited for USPSA, NRA Action Pistol, and other disciplines, while keeping its cost under $1,000. We reasoned that the extended eight-shot capacity of the Taurus 608 revolver would allow us to go head-to-head with semiautos at any event we wanted to enter. The base 608 with a 61/2-inch barrel retailed for $465, allowing us $600 for modification. Initially, the gun performed well. It was accurate, and incorporating full-moon clips made it pretty quick on reloads.
After competing in the NRA National Action Pistol Championship with the 608, we began training feverishly to prepare for IPSC competition. This meant dry-firing and speedloading with dummy rounds every spare moment of the day. To be really fast with a revolver, you have to include the reload into every exercise. Draw, fire, reload, re-engage. This was nothing new to me, and my old K-frame never complained. But after a few weeks of this routine with the substantially heavier 608, the gun broke down. Revolver shooters realize that as the cylinder is pushed out of the gun during reloading, the entire weight of the gun is supported by the crane and yoke.
This use caused play to develop in these critical parts, which lead to devastating wear to the forcing cone and the outside of the barrel. The cylinder was making hard contact with the barrel as it swung into place.
In our opinion, the destruction of cylinder-to-bore alignment can be traced to the gun’s weak yoke and crane assembly. This goes back to when Taurus took over the Smith & Wesson factory in Brazil. The yoke on a S&W; is a solid axle held to the frame with a tapered screw anchored at the end of the yoke. This was one of the design patents Taurus was denied. Instead, Taurus had to use a screw and notch at the front of the yoke assisted by a détente spring and plunger. Because of the inordinate amount of wear the Taurus underwent, we now believe this design is inadequate for a gun weighing 51 ounces.
When we returned the gun to Taurus for repairs, the company stood behind its product and lifetime warranty completely. The company replaced the gun free of charge, and even reimbursed us $225 to cover the cost of having the barrel Hybra-Ported again and the moon-clip modification redone. Also, these funds covered reinstalling the Weigand refined action in the new gun, and Taurus returned all the parts plus a complete set of action parts from the replacement gun. For these efforts, Taurus deserves a hearty attaboy. However….
The Second Coming Of The 608
In our view, the new gun’s resulting action was better than stock, but not as good as when we had received it from the Weigand shop. The difference was a longer pull that included a “dead zone” before the break. Also, the new gun produced satisfactory, but not outstanding, results at the range. Our best group at 15 yards with the top-performing Fiocchi 142-grain FMJ factory round featured four shots in 0.75 inches. The fifth shot was a shooter-induced flyer caused by the aforementioned dead zone that expanded the group to 1.89 inches. The 608 in our first test had eight shots in a group no bigger than 0.98 inches.
While waiting for Taurus to evaluate and replace the first gun, we purchased a device to determine bore consistency and precise cylinder-to-bore alignment from Brownells catalog. Part number 080-617-138 is a .38/.357 match-grade range-rod combo (handle and tool head) designed specifically for this purpose. Using this device, we checked the new 608’s bore, inserting the rod into the muzzle past the forcing cone with the cylinder out. Then with the cylinder in the frame, we pulled the trigger and held it back after the hammer had pushed its nose through the breech plate. The end of the range rod is concave and filled with a resilient material to prevent damage to the nose pin. Eight times the rod had a smooth run from muzzle to breech plate.
This left unsolved the crane-assembly problem. Jack Weigand, who did the original work on the gun, suggested two possible remedies to bolster the crane assembly. One is to simply machine a new crane from harder material and hold it in place with two screws. Or, a more economical solution might be to replace the plunger and spring with a solid screw and bushings to create a second notch for an additional retaining screw to ride in.
Putting the Taurus on a diet presents two other alternatives. Lightening the frame is out of the question, but the stock barrel weighs a crushing 14.8 ounces. Since the Hybra-Port system reduces recoil sufficiently, the additional weight of a full underlug is no longer necessary. Neither is the factory porting system, which needlessly lengthens the barrel from 6 to 6.5 inches. Some of the weight in this area could be machined away just forward of the ejector shroud, which would reduce wear on the weak parts.
A lighter match-grade barrel might trim another ounce or two.
However, neither we nor Weigand were fully confident that the fixes—most of which involved expensive aftermarket gunsmithing—would work completely. We agreed not to spend more time and money on the Taurus 608 at this time.
The Smith & Wesson Alternative
Instead, we turned to a new gun, the S&W; 627. This eight-shooter is built on an N-frame with a custom 5-inch barrel. Sights are adjustable, with a Patridge front sight that is supposed to come with the Ed McGivern gold bead insert. Ours was missing the bead. Its cylinders are chamfered and relieved so that the gun can be fired with or without moon clips. The grips are wood with finger grooves produced by Hogue. This is not the one-piece Mono-Grip Hogue is famous for, but it is exceptionally rigid nonetheless. The bottom of the grip is flat, making it easier to overcome its round-butt frame design when shooting prone or from a rest. The finish is a mix of polished and satin stainless steel. We found the satin finish was hard to clean on surfaces such as the flutes.
The most accurate factory load we found when testing the modified Taurus was the Fiocchi 142 FMJ/TC. At 15 yards off sandbags it produced a five-shot group of 0.98 inch. The best three-shot group measured 0.54 inch. Smith’s 627 shot a 1.05-inch-best five-shot group and a 0.81-inch three-round group with this same ammo. However, the recoil was stiff due to the gun’s light weight. We also tried a .38 Major handload using GAT’s 200-grain RNL over 4.6 grains of Bullseye. This ammo produced a five-shot group of 0.73 inch at 15 yards. As impressive as this sounds, the 627 shot to the left no matter how far right I pulled the rear sight. This is evidence of the barrel being misaligned in the frame. Checking with the same range rod used on the Taurus, we found a noticeable constriction beginning just forward of the forcing cone. Also, the rod hit the inside of two consecutive cylinders as it passed the cylinder gap. These shortfalls should be addressed as warranty work.
The trigger would also need extensive adjustment. The pull is heavy, in the neighborhood of 15 pounds. But even lightened, other characteristics of the eight-tooth ratchet have to be addressed. Since the distance between cylinders is very small (0.055 inch), the hand that engages the ratchet must make a short, hard punch of a stroke. Its sudden go and stop results in a heavy torque-over high in the frame, threatening sight alignment.
We installed a Jerry Miculek/Hogue square-butt grip to make use of the mainspring window and experiment with the trigger pull. By backing off the mainspring tension screw, we were able to lighten the first half of the trigger pull that cycles the cylinder into position. However, the release portion of the stroke was unaffected and remained heavy. The 627 trigger is also afflicted with substantial overtravel. It’s safe to say this trigger needs the attention of a pro like Jerry Miculek to be competitive. That would likely run $65 to $100.
With its short barrel and light weight, this gun is most suited for practical shooting competition. Since the gun is not compensated, it would not be currently competitive in anything but Limited Class matches. For other games, eight shots is not an advantage. Silhouette shooters don’t need the capacity, and the gun is just too light to handle heavy loads comfortably. The trigger is too disruptive and the gun has yet to deliver the accuracy needed for Bianchi Cup use. The 627 could be a good bowling-pin gun, especially with porting. But as it sits, it is basically a stone IPSC gun that operates at a capacity disadvantage.
Performance Shooter Recommends
The Taurus 608 project gun initially exceeded all expectations at this year’s Bianchi Cup and was surprisingly competitive in IPSC competition, despite its eight-shot capacity effectiveness hinges (no pun intended) on the strength of the crane and yoke. We have not come up with a satisfactory, affordable answer for this problem. Thus, despite the gun’s early promise, we can’t recommend the Taurus 608 as a high-volume competition gun.
The Smith & Wesson 627 has a better cylinder design, in our experience, and we theorize it will be more durable than the Taurus. It is the right size and exhibits the proper balance for gunslinging IPSC style. However, we are uncomfortable with the gun’s shortcomings, which we believe would be unsatisfactory in a gun costing much less. Thus, we don’t think the Performance Center S&W; 627 is worth the money.
Moreover, as competition guns both the Taurus and the Smith are ideas whose times have passed. From the standpoint of fun, an eight-shot revolver will never be out of style, but if the price is too high to set one up properly, shooters will continue to ignore them in favor of semi-autos.