Long ago in a galaxy far, far away— Texas in the mid-1960s—Skeeter Skelton wrote an article about picking one handgun in the event the balloon went up and you had to head for the hills. It was one of those “food for thought” pieces written in Skeeter’s relaxed, storytelling style. He made some interesting comparisons between the guns and ammo available at that time and evaluated everything against a set of performance criteria oriented toward specific goals. The most important goal was long-term survival. He acknowledged that his final selection of a weapon was not a surprise, but rather could have been predicted from the outset. In the end, he chose his favorite revolver, the .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 27 with a 5-inch barrel.
Two features that Smith & Wesson did not change from Skeeter’s choice of 40 years ago are the caliber and barrel length. In the ongoing debate about the stopping power of various handgun calibers, the 125-grain jacketed hollow point fired from a .357 Magnum has been acknowledged as having a superior one-shot stop record. Key to that success has been a barrel long enough to generate sufficient velocities.
There are other good reasons for putting a 5-inch barrel on the TRR8, such as having mounting rails with enough length to handle various optics, lights and lasers, but terminal ballistic performance is the foundation. If, like Skeeter, you think a 5-inch barrel is the perfect length for an N-frame .357 Smith & Wesson, I certainly won’t argue the point. You’ll notice some striking differences between the original Model 27 and the TRR8, and all of them were carefully defined and designed. The TRR8 comes with Hogue
rubber grips. Underneath the grips is a scandium alloy, round-butt frame that has been “converted” to a square butt by virtue of the Hogue grips. If you prefer round-butt grips, you can get a pair from Hogue that follow the contour of the gun. For me, the preference is based on the balance of the particular barrel length. Any Smith & Wesson N-frame barrel 5 inches or less in length feels best with round-butt Hogue grips. Regardless of shape, I like the softening effect of the Hogue grips on any Smith & Wesson generating moderate to heavy recoil, or on one that I’ll be firing in a reasonably rapid double-action mode.
At first glance, the TRR8′s cylinder may result in a double take. There are eight charge holes as opposed to the traditional six on the Model 27 of yore. If you think the cylinder walls look a bit thin, rest assured Smith & Wesson has run all kinds of analyses that show the stainless steel cylinder is more than adequate for the pressures generated. An interesting aspect of the cylinder’s design is the charge holes are canted inward almost like they’re pigeon-toed, which leaves more steel around the outside of the cartridge’s front end where the higher pressure points are located. The chamber cant is so slight it has no effect on the bullet’s passage from cylinder to barrel, noted Tom Kelly, manager of Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center.
Tightly fitted to the barrel/cylinder gap, the forcing cone is more than adequate to handle the transition. Just above the front of the cylinder, located on the topstrap, is a J-shaped piece of hardened spring steel that deflects the flame produced by hot gases and prevents it from cutting the top-strap. While that little piece of steel seems out of place on a Performance Center gun, it does preserve the topstrap.
A J-shaped plate of hardened spring steel located above the cylinder gap prevents hot gases from cutting the topstrap. It may look odd, but it has proven to be effective in preserving the structural Integrity of scandium-frame guns.
There is one feature on the Model 27 that has bugged me forever, and it has been retained on the TRR8. The extension of the barrel’s forcing cone into the frame limits the length of ammunition you can use in the gun. The shooter must either use lighter bullet weights or bury heavier bullets deeper into the cartridge case, which reduces powder capacity. Skeeter had to use .38 Special cases to load the heavy cast bullets he liked.
The explanation from Kelly was right on target. “Extending the forcing cone into the frame reduces freebore and enhances accuracy,” he said. I started to mention the limits this places on achieving high velocities with heavier bullets but remembered the TRR8 is a tactical revolver, meaning it’s designed around the 125-grain jacketed-hollow-point ammunition that gave the .357 Magnum its reputation for one-shot stops.
Forward of the cylinder there are lots of changes, such as all kinds of flats rather than the traditional rounded surfaces. What you see, though, is not the barrel, but rather a titanium shroud that fits over the barrel. Beneath the shroud is a custom German rifle barrel with eight lands and grooves, and it is screwed into the frame. The shroud has a keyway access near the breech and is locked in place at the muzzle, resulting in a barrel that is free-floating on the sides and anchored at both ends. This is not a system that allows you to adjust the barrel/cylinder gap; it’s fixed at the factory. Since the shroud is perpendicular to the cylinder face, it ensures any hardware mounted on the rails is parallel with the bore axis.
The TRR8's titanium barrel shroud is drilled and tapped on its upper and lower flats to accept two accessory rails included with the gun. The top flat takes a Weaver-style rail for mounting optics, while a Picatlnny-style rail attaches beneath the barrel for the addition of lights and lasers.
You’ll notice four screw holes on top of the barrel shroud and three on the bottom near the muzzle. The top holes accept a Weaver-style rail for mounting the optic of your choice, while the holes underneath take a shorter, Picatinny-style rail for a light or laser. Bushnell’s Holosight fits nicely onto the upper rail without
disturbing the front and rear sights. The iron sights remain dialed in, but in order to use them you have to remove both the Holosight and the rail on which it is mounted. The lower rail has more flexibility in that a weapon light can be quickly slid onto it for use in darkness and later removed so the revolver can be holstered with the rail still attached. The iron sights are outstanding and consist of a black, adjustable rear and Patridge front blade with a gold dot. In adequate light, the black front blade presents a crisp, clear sight picture with no interference from the gold bead. In dim light, the gold bead is highly visible and more than satisfactory for close-range, defensive shooting. I am more accustomed to shooting with iron sights simply because that’s what I mostly use on handguns, yet with all the hardware installed, the TRR8 felt completely manageable and comfortable on the range.
Smith & Wesson went one step further by installing a ball-and-detent lockup in the TRR8′s yoke. Although not a new idea, this lockup is exceptionally strong due to a slight change in its design. The ball is offset 30 degrees from the detent. As the gun wears over the course of a few thousand full-house loads, the ball goes deeper into the detent, locking things up even tighter. Finally, all metal parts on the gun, including the tactical rails, have a black, bead-blasted finish. Kelly compared this to an expensive custom paint job on a car. “It’s nearly indestructible,” he said.
What I really wanted to do with this gun was take it on a small-game safari in the Southwest after rabbits and javelina. But the timing wasn’t right, and that’s not the gun’s real mission, so I visited a local range where many IDPA, IPSC and cowboy matches are held. The range trips revealed some interesting things. Shooting double action at 50 feet with iron sights, I could easily keep all shots in the upper portion TQ-15 target. I ran something like eight cylinders full of different ammo through the new revolver and only drifted a couple of shots slightly wide when I increased the rate of fire beyond my proficiency threshold. It didn’t matter if the light was on the rail or not; the gun was quite easy to handle. Three other semi-auto pistol aficionados worked the TRR8 and loved it. Two of them—range masters and match directors—both expressed an interest in buying the gun. Both of these guys have produced a lot of ooohs and aaahs over some of the revolvers I bring to their range, but neither has ever wanted to buy one. Is this perhaps the beginning of a mass return to wheelguns?
Fact is, the TRR8 was developed around real police department needs. There have been occasions where entry teams shooting semi-autos around shields have experienced slides locking back when they struck the shield during cycling. That doesn’t happen with revolvers. With eight rounds in the cylinder, we’re not giving up much to a single-stack semi-auto. The average guy might lose some time on reloads, but with practice, some mighty fast cylinder charges can be accomplished with the moon clips that accompany the TRR8. Weighing 35 ounces, it’s 9 ounces lighter than an all-steel Model 27 and close to the weight of a steel self-loader.
The TRR8 is a Performance Center catalog item, so it will remain available rather than being a limited-run firearm. I’m not rushing out to sell all my 1911s, but I’m very intrigued by Smith & Wesson’s tactical revolver. I think it would make a much better option than a semi-automatic for many shooters. Plus I can’t get that small-game safari out of my mind.