My first centerfire handgun was a Smith & Wesson Model 28 Highway Patrolman revolver. This .357 Mag sixgun was built on the rugged N-Frame, the same as that used on the S&W Model 29 .44 Mag. This big wheelgun was the test bed for my foray into handloading, and it gobbled up some horrendous loads constructed with hard-cast, 158-grain SWC bullets backed by healthy doses of 2400, H110 and W296 powder and sparked with magnum primers. That being said, I’ve always had a soft spot for N-Frames and have a number in my personal collection. Another favorite is the S&W Registered .357 Mag, which was later called the Model 27. I have an early post-war “Pre-27” with a 5-inch barrel—a barrel length that I favor on both revolvers and autoloaders.
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So it would only be natural that I was drawn to the Smith & Wesson M&P (Military & Police) R8 revolver from the S&W Performance Center. Here we have a revolver that I would have given my teeth for back in the day when I carried a wheelgun as my service sidearm while a youthful LEO. Not only is the M&P R8 an N-Frame, but it has a 5-inch barrel, plus the large-diameter stainless steel cylinder is bored with eight chambers for the powerful .357 Mag (or .38 Special +P) cartridge.
The M&P R8 is a 21st century service revolver—it defies conventional designs in several ways. Besides the high-capacity, stainless steel cylinder, the R8 has a scandium alloy frame that keeps its weight down to 36.3 ounces unloaded. The barrel is a two-piece affair with a steel shroud that is held in place at the muzzle by a special nut that maintains tension on the barrel, increasing its accuracy potential. The bottom portion of the barrel shroud forms an ejector rod shroud or underlug, and ahead of that is an integral accessory rail. The top of the shroud acts as a ramp for the interchangeable front sight blade, and it’s also the attachment point for another accessory rail that runs from the middle of the shroud back over the topstrap, a little over an inch from the fully adjustable rear sight.
Speaking of the rear sight, it has a V-notch unlike the square notches of 99.9 percent of S&W’s other handguns. I think the purpose here was to have the white dot on the front sight center itself into the rear V-notch for the correct sight picture. The shroud also contains the slot wherein fits the ball-detent of the forward locking point on this revolver.
The M&P R8 incorporates all the modern changes S&W has made to its revolver designs. Gone are the pinned barrel, pressed-in cylinder stop, hammer-mounted firing pin, and tiny pins to hold the extractor star in position. In place is a frame-mounted firing pin, a cylinder stop integral with the recoil shield, angular cuts in the ends of the extractor star arms that keep it in position, plus a key-operated internal safety lock. The traditional thumb latch has been redesigned to a more oval shape, and there’s now a stainless steel insert above the rear of the barrel to prevent topstrap cutting by propellant gases. The hammer might best be called a semi-target design with a slightly enlarged spur that is checkered and rounded at the rear.
The trigger has a smooth face and is about 0.27 inches wide. In keeping with its Performance Center origins, the M&P R8 has a smooth double-action (DA) pull and a crisp, clean single-action (SA) pull. I also noted that the chambers in the cylinder are chamfered for easier insertion of cartridges, especially if using the moon clips or a speedloader. The black synthetic grip has finger grooves and pebble-textured panels on the sides.
To be honest, I doubt any LE agency will be adopting the M&P R8 for general issue. This handgun will appeal more to the LEO who has some latitude in what he or she can carry as a service sidearm and belongs to an organization that either specifies or allows privately owned firearms. For me, what comes to mind are smaller and rural LE outfits where officers or deputies purchase their own handguns for duty use. The M&P R8 could have a great deal of appeal for the LEO who prefers the functionality of the wheelgun over the autoloader. Another use might be with a specialized team, such as SWAT or a fugitive squad, where eight rounds of .357 Mag firepower could be beneficial.
For uniform or special team use, there’s also the necessity for a duty holster. Needless to say, at this point there aren’t a lot of holsters out there for the M&P R8. My first thought was Uncle Mike’s Sidekick. This is a high-riding, black Cordura nylon holster with an adjustable safety retention snap that will fit many different revolvers and is much like the old Threepersons-style holster that was a mainstay in LE for many years. Another rig I found is the ProTech Outdoors Intimidator. This is another high-ride, black Cordura nylon holster, and it attaches to the belt using either a steel clip or a tunnel-type belt loop. It has a thumb-break retention strap; the inner strap is made of rigid plastic, allowing a smooth break for a more rapid draw. Unlike the Sidekick, the Intimidator has a covered triggerguard for added safety. For carrying extra moon clips, I found that Uncle Mike’s Universal Speedloader case with Velcro closures worked just fine on a nylon duty belt.
Okay, so the M&P R8 has those upper and lower accessory rails—let’s use them. Enter the Viridian C5L-R. This compact, lightweight device houses an Elite red laser sight with a 5-milliwatt peak/635nm optimum wavelength that allows daylight targeting at distances up to 25 yards. Added to this is a Radiance tactical light that provides 100 lumens in constant-on or 140 lumens in strobe mode. This whole package comes in a unit that measures 1.76 inches long, 1.13 inches tall and 1.25 inches wide. The body of the C5L-R is constructed of Zytel polymer, and it weighs a scant 1.66 ounces with a CR2 lithium battery. The unit’s Enhanced Combat Readiness (ECR) activation lets you select from several light/laser combinations. It’s fitted with a claw mount that is easy on/off using a large screw that has a knurled head and is slotted for a penny. This arrangement allows the device to be attached in seconds when needed and removed for normal holster carry. The laser sight makes sense, especially for situations where a ballistic shield restricts the use of regular iron sights. A green laser is also available.
I chose three .357 Mag loads to test the M&P R8 at the range. First was the CorBon 125-grain JHP load, which the company lists as having a velocity of 1,450 fps. This ammunition features a controlled-expansion bullet with a serrated jacket that assures the bullet will mushroom to twice its diameter. Next I selected the Starfire load from PMC. This cartridge has a unique 150-grain JHP bullet with a deep hollow point that incorporates a rib and flute design. This gives the hollow cavity a “flower petal” appearance, and combined with the notched jacket, this bullet has outstanding expansion and penetration characteristics. From Speer I picked a 158-grain Gold Dot HP load. This bullet is actually electroplated with a “jacket” and is punch-formed to give it a cup-like hollow point. The nose of this bullet is notched and serrated to improve expansion using the FBI test protocol.
Now it was time to put the Smith M&P R8 to the test. My first step was to see what kind of velocities would be generated from the revolver’s 5-inch barrel, so I set up my chronograph to get some readings. The CorBon load was a real scorcher, while the PMC Starfire was more akin to .38 +P+. The Speer Gold Dot HP round was more of what I would expect of a contemporary .357 Mag cartridge.
Before installing anything on the R8’s accessory rails, I wanted to see what it would do with just the iron sights, so I put up bullseye targets at the 25-yard mark. Shooting atop a sandbag rest from the bench in SA mode, I triggered three 5-shot groups with each of the test loads. I found the point of aim (POA) had to be adjusted slightly for each bullet weight—higher for the CorBon and lower for the Gold Dot. I managed to keep everything in the black, and my tightest cluster measured 1.33 inches with the Speer Gold Dot. It also had the best group average, followed in second place by the PMC Starfire. Additionally, I did not use moon clips during this test phase, as they are not mandatory to shoot the M&P R8 and won’t add or subtract anything as far as the accuracy potential is concerned.
For a practical shooting test, I normally use a 30-round combat course that is intended for a semi-automatic pistol. Given that the M&P R8 is an eight-shot revolver, I modified this course using the same distances but more rounds. It was also time to install the Viridian C5L-R and give it a workout. I made sure that the Viridian unit was attached as far back from the muzzle as possible, as I planned to use the CorBon ammunition during my combat test phase.
At 3 yards I shot from the hip, so to speak, using only my strong hand and then only my support hand, while looking over the handgun, the sights below my eye level. I started with the R8 in my hand, down behind my right leg—ready but out of sight—as I would if checking a suspicious circumstance or making a potentially risky traffic stop. I then moved into my shooting stance, fired eight rounds, reloaded, transferred the gun to my support hand, fired eight more shots, reloaded and reassessed the situation. At this distance, using this scenario, I didn’t use the laser/light device.
I moved back to 7 yards to simulate a tactical situation using a ballistic shield. Here, since I couldn’t effectively use the sights, I activated the laser/light, with the light on strobe. Using my strong hand, I shot a series of four double-taps and reloaded. Next, from the same distance I performed a body armor drill, again using the Viridian unit. From a low-ready position, I brought the weapon up and fired two shots center-mass, then one to the head and one to the pelvis area. Then I repeated the process and reloaded.
Lastly, I moved back to 15 yards to a barricade. I fired four shots from the right side, then went to a kneeling position and shot four more times. I was gratified to see the center of the B-27 silhouette target had a big chewed-out area in the X/1 ring, with 6 hits in the 9 ring and a single 8, not counting my two head and two pelvis shots, which were on target and close together.
Besides a 392/400 12-X score, everything worked and worked well. The smooth DA pull of the M&P R8 contributed to the good score, and the revolver’s muzzle-heavy balance, weight and well-designed grip made it feel like I was shooting .38 Special +P ammunition, which was a boon for rapid-fire shooting and fast target acquisition. The Viridian laser/light kept its POA after having been removed and then reattached, and it didn’t come loose during the shooting session. At 7 yards I used only the laser, and at 15 yards I was looking over the sights but still relying mostly on the laser, which was easy to see in daylight at the outdoor range. The moon clips made reloading a snap, as did the chamfered chambers of the cylinder.
I believe the Smith & Wesson M&P R8 is a viable candidate for use by law enforcement. It comes with a hefty price tag and will not appeal to everyone or meet every need. And holsters are few and far between right now. But if you are partial to revolvers, have latitude in a duty carry gun and want eight shots of .357 Mag in a very controllable package, the M&P R8 might just be what you are looking for.
For more information, visit smith-wesson.com or call 800-331-0852.