“I think I’ll do okay,” he told me with a slowly-developing wry smile under a horseshoe mustache (not to be confused with a Fu Manchu) and an immaculate platinum four-inch brim Serratelli western hat. I always wondered how he kept that thing so clean patrolling our infamous red dirt roads. In retrospect, I had probably come across a little incredulous as to Garfield County Deputy Cory Rink’s choice of new duty pistol while we were discussing the dynamics of modern law enforcement shootings, split times, reloading speed and accuracy. Rink is a unique fellow. He’s intelligent, excellent with the public, well-versed in statute and case law, a custody/control (hand-to-hand) expert and has thrown more than a few hay bales in his life. So, of course, he chose a unique duty gun; a S&W M&P R8. But, still… a revolver? In the 21st century? He seemed confident that he’d do just fine on the range. We’d see soon enough.
The Smith & Wesson Military and Police pistol once evoked images of cops crouching on the firing line with their neckties tucked into their button-up shirts, wearing short-brimmed western hats, cranking rounds from their Model 10s with a single hand. When we talk about M&P’s today, we’re mostly referring to polymer auto-pistols and there are a bunch of them in law enforcement use today for good reason. The full size M&P autos hold 15-17 rounds of .40 caliber or 9mm in their standard capacity magazines. They’re light, reliable, relatively compact and robust. Let’s face it. Modern plastic pistols are so usable and reliable these days that revolvers have almost completely lost favor as a primary law enforcement sidearm.
However, the M&P revolver is back in a modernized platform: The M&P R8 is an eight shot, five-inch barrel .357 Magnum with a fantastic trigger and the ability to accept full moon clips. Its unloaded weight is just less than 36 ounces due in part to its Scandium Alloy frame. It has a standard matte black finish, interchangeable sights and an accessory rail. It features large, soft synthetic stocks which really absorb recoil and help the shooter truly experience this well-balanced piece. The double action trigger pull is about eleven pounds and the single action pull is around four pounds, but those numbers don’t do this gun justice thanks to the S&W Performance Center action tuning. It’s the smoothest revolver trigger I’ve experienced outside of a Korth. Anyone who has ever handled a Korth precision revolver (which retail for several thousand dollars) will understand what a grand statement that is. Could a revolver with these qualities make a serviceable sidearm for a rural cop in northwest Oklahoma? That’s what I wanted to know. I set up some drills for Deputy Rink and his new R8 to find out.
At this point, Deputy Rink had purchased and decided to carry the R8 at some point in the future, but hadn’t begun the familiarization process. I put him on the spot when I asked him to shoot the first four stages of the Casino Drill considering he’d never even attempted a reload with moon clips before that day.
He got good hits and his split times were as low as .23/second, which would be more than respectable with a plastic pistol. Also, Rink shot better at distance with the R8 than with the M&P autopistol that he’d been carrying on duty. He qualified with the R8 on the state’s mandatory qualification course with a perfect score. It was my turn. I managed a sub three-inch group unsupported at 25 yards with .38 Special American Eagle 130 grain FMJ’s. I thumb-cocked three of the rounds and trigger-cocked two of them. We fired a few hundred rounds through the big gun without issue.
I know a lot of smarter, better trained and more experienced folks than yours truly who think the revolver is no longer an acceptable firearm for defense. Wheel guns aren’t as simple as some folks seem to believe. There are a lot of working parts inside there and when gunk is allowed to build up under the extractor star, at the forcing cone or other places on the revolver, the gun can cease to function. These are not the kind of stoppages which can be easily fixed during a gunfight as with a standard semi-auto. Regular and proper maintenance with a revolver is a must.
However, what led to the M&P R8’s introduction is an interesting tale of irony. A large metropolitan police department SWAT team came to Smith & Wesson with a common problem. Tactical teams regularly use ballistic shields or “bunkers.” It’s a difficult assignment because mobility and visibility are both limited. It’s also difficult because the shield operator’s choice of weapon is almost always the handgun for obvious reasons. As the team makes their approach and/or entry, the bunker schlepper must bring their pistol around the side and sight it through a small ballistic window. It’s awkward and very difficult to fire from that position. It’s even more awkward when a stoppage is caused by the slide striking the bunker or just because of the weakened, contorted grip that is necessary while using this equipment. Thankfully, my personal experience can only confirm how disconcerting it can be when it happens during training. I’m certain those who have experienced it, “for real” would be able to add to the discussion. Smith & Wesson was approached by a large metropolitan police department about the issue. They responded with the R8 as an age-old solution to a modern problem. This pistol is capable of optics, lights and/or lasers, but is less likely to experience the common “bunker jam.”
In the days following the April 19, 1995, Murrah Building, central Oklahoma had an influx of national media who’d never visited our fine state before and may have had some preconceived notions about our area or maybe just our era. According to the accounts of some of our local folks, a few of these national media types were quite impressed by our interstate highways, horseless carriages and indoor plumbing. As laughable as their ignorance was, a few Southwestern stereotypes were probably confirmed. For example, it was not uncommon then or even now to see a county sheriff’s deputy wearing a western hat, western boots and carrying a 1911 pistol, or even a revolver. Some might think of Oklahoma as anachronistic in this regard. That might be true, but not in the negative connotation that term often evokes. Individuality is a characteristic here which continues to stand the test of progression. Many unique Okie lawmen have effectively served their area and their era with honor, bearing the emergency equipment of their ancestors. At least one of them is still doing so behind an M&P R8, a horseshoe mustache, under a platinum cowboy hat.