When it comes to sidearms, there’s a perception out there that the “tactical” world is all about the semi-auto handgun. That might be so if you look at the numbers.

However, there’s an emerging new class of wheel guns that strike an aggressive line and veer away from the blued steel and hardwood grips of the revolvers of yore. And just like with the AR market where customers are starting to look for something different, your handgun buyers might want to see what’s out there among this new class of revolvers that pulls at their tactical heartstrings.

One gun that’s charting the course for the modern “tactical revolver” is the Smith & Wesson M&P R8 .357. The R8 is not a “new 2015” model, but there are so few of the R8 revolvers produced it deserves attention as a frontrunner of the ever-changing and resurging revolver market. It’s certainly something unique for retailers to carry.

I would argue that the M&P R8 is the company’s best and most versatile full-sized revolver. The S&W R8 is rather unique from many perspectives. It is most recognized as one of Jerry Miculek’s wheel guns used to stack up truckloads of competition trophies and trick shots. But it didn’t start there. As the M&P – Military & Police – designation on the side of the R8 model notes, it was actually created as a police and military “entry gun.”

In a new world of polymer pistols, why a wheelgun? Generally the “pointman” on a SWAT entry team is the first guy in the door and is usually carrying a bulletproof shield. The heavy shield makes it cumbersome to carry anything but a handgun. Tactical teams noticed that semi-auto pistols often jammed if the slide accidentally hit the shield while firing. Revolvers were the natural solution to this problem.

The LEO input requested S&W deliver a higher-capacity model around the S&W eight-shot 327 revolver design with all the accessory rails of a semi-auto. As it turned out, the slicked-up, customized and optic-ready Performance Center R8 design also became a favorite of competitors. Suddenly, S&W had a six- to eight-month backorder on this relatively low-production Performance Center pistol.

The S&W Performance Center was created to deliver a range of custom firearms, extending from special-purpose custom low-production guns like this M&P R8 all the way to show-stopping engraved full custom order models. The vast majority of Performance Center handguns are simply limited production models like the R8, which cannot be part of regular production due to time-consuming fitting, tuning or customization.

In the end, the S&W Performance Center does save some customers money. A very basic trigger job, cylinder chamfer and moon clip conversion will easily total $600 — which is exactly the difference between a  $1,392 Performance Center R8 and a base model S&W .357, without the accuracy potential of the R8 out of the box.

There are a lot of revolvers out on the market, but few would disagree with the perspective that the S&W Performance Center revolvers are the premium end of production revolvers. Customers might swear a bit when they see the price on these wheelguns, but they are in a class by themselves compared to what Ruger, Taurus and others are delivering to the market. After they pull a trigger on one of these Performance Center guns, the cash in their pocket just starts magically appearing on the counter.

Fit And Finish

What you get on the M&P R8 is quite a lot, but it’s the rails that are the more noticeable feature. Instead of needing some tacky-looking clamp on barrel mounts or gunsmithing time just to add a flashlight and optic, the S&W R8 comes equipped with these rails elegantly integrated out of the box. The R8 lower Picatinny rail is integrated, however, the included shoot-through top rail can be user attached or detached with the four supplied screws. Wheelgun shooters can have the same tactical advantages of a fast red- dot and a weapon-mounted light. The result is something that looks a bit futuristic compared to the legacy model 27s or 327s of the past, however, this pistol represents a cutting-edge redesign of the revolver concept unlike any other revolver on the market.

Much of the initial R&D for the basis of this gun was done decades ago with the development of the 1952 Airweight snubby and the 2001 release of a Scandium model. Smith learned what each lightweight material was good for and their limitations. Developing a componentized gun was just a smart way to make the gun more configurable, more accurate and lighter, while taking advantage of the best materials for each area of the gun.

The company uses a light but strong Scandium alloy for the model 327 based R8 frame, but a stainless shield insert was added to prevent propellant gases from cutting the alloy frame. The barrel is factory tensioned with a sleeve system to improve accuracy. The R8 also departs from a more traditional hammer-mounted firing pin to a floating frame- mounted firing pin with a transfer-bar-style safety. This safety prevents the hammer from hitting the firing pin unless the trigger is being pulled back and is less prone to debris blocking the hammer-mounted firing pin strikes. Angular-cut extractor star arms positively align to prevent hard reloads, and S&W has even added a keyed internal safety child lock.

The user replaceable V-notch rear sight and front brass dot sight are designed for very fast target acquisition over typical square notch match sights. The top rail does not interfere with the sights. The user-operated hammer spur and thumb latch are more “competition style” oversized and more ergonomically shaped. The R8 features a proven, secure and comfortable Hogue grip for weapon retention in all conditions.

The high-capacity cylinder is made from stainless steel to add strength and is milled for full moon clips. Moon clips deliver a very fast competition and defensive loading option where all the rounds are held rigidly via a thin steel clip. The entire eight-round ammo package drops in to fully load or unload the revolver. The Performance Center delivers the R8 with aggressive cylinder lip chamfering to speed reloading, however I had some sharp spots that required a bit of Dremel polishing. Once you use moon clips, you will not want anything else. The R8 can be shot with or without the moon clips, so if you do get into a jam, rounds can be loaded manually in the traditional manner or with a drop-away-style speed loader.

The trigger is amazing. Like really crazy, great, amazing with a buttery smooth action. The Performance Center has done its magic and tuned the trigger and action and added a trigger stop to eliminate overtravel. The result is one super light and crisp four-pound single-action and predictable 12-pound double-action trigger.

I tested the revolver with the factory sights with a Lucid red-dot, with a Mission First Tactical Torch Backup Light, and with my favorite ultra-versatile snap-on Rogers Tactical Light. Full-sized tactical lights fit on the lower Picatinny as well. With this eight-round revolver equipped with a red dot and light, it transforms what you think an “old revolver” can do.

Accuracy

This could easily be a gun that could deliver sub-1-inch groups at 25 yards with the right ammo, optic and shooter. It is a beautiful shooting gun. I tested it with hot 158-grain Winchester Whitetail and a few different .357 and .38 Special Hornady rounds and never really saw any groups I shot well push over the 1.25-inch range off sandbags. Therefore, I’m pretty confident that this defensive focused revolver could deliver torso and head shots at seven yards even from behind a shield. My best single group was actually under 1 inch with 158-grain Hornady rounds.

The Right Tactical Revolver

If your customer is going to own just one indispensable, versatile .357 Magnum revolver, this would be “the one,” and this was the reason I bought this gun. This one revolver is like a Swiss Army knife that can do it all, consuming the widely available .357 and .38 Special rounds without being picky. The R8 delivers reliability, durability, un-picky ammo needs, an impressive eight-shot capacity, very fast and reliable moon clip reloading, lighter weight and impressive accuracy, and it even has rails to add things such as lights and optics.

Sure, the market is crazy about semi-autos, but S&W, Ruger and Taurus are still selling truckloads of revolvers. The R8 is the evolution beyond the traditional revolver to something new, similar to Ruger’s polymer LCR and the Taurus Judge. The S&W R8 combines everything you would want in a competition gun with everything you would want on a tactical pistol that will not jam and only requires another pull of the trigger to makes the gun go bang. If you happen to be a competitive shooter, it can excel at that, too.

SPECS:

S&W M&P R8 8-shot .357 Competition Revolver

Performance Center Tuned:

  • PC Trigger with Trigger Stop
  • PC Tuned Action
  • Scandium Frame

Model M&P R8

  • MRSP: $1,329
  • SKU:170292
  • Model: M&P R8
  • Caliber: .357 Magnum
  • .38 S&W Special +P
  • Capacity: 8 Rounds
  • Barrel Length: 5 inches
  • Front Sight: Interchangeable
  • Rear Sight: Adjustable V-Notch
  • Grip: Synthetic
  • Frame: Large – Exposed Hammer
  • Action: Single/Double Action
  • Finish: Black Matte
  • Overall Length: 10.5 inches
  • Material: Scandium Alloy Frame
  • Stainless Steel Cylinder
  • Weight Empty: 36.3 oz / 1,029.1 g
  • Purpose: Recreational, Home Protection, Professional / Duty