Out Where The West Begins: A Deputy and His R8



“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.


The M&P R8

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.

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About Warren Wilson

Warren Wilson is an experienced law enforcement officer with approximately 20 years of service, specializing patrol and tactics. He is a former SWAT team leader, writer, and firearms instructor. Warren is currently the training lieutenant for a metropolitan agency in the State of Oklahoma.

15 thoughts on “Out Where The West Begins: A Deputy and His R8

  1. My kind of story! I carried a 681PC back when I worked the suburbs. I’m still a sucker for a good wheelgun.

  2. “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.” — 11 pounds is 11 pounds. I’ll take my Glocks or 1911, thank you. Revo for hunting or the J-frame for the pocket sometimes, as b/u.

    My lawman great uncle Will Trousdale did carry a wheelgun … 100 years ago as the Marshal in the part of Oklahoma Territory called “Hell’s Fringe.” He was the first Sheriff of Pottawatomie County OK too, iirc.

  3. I started in 1995 and when I went to the Academy, there were still a lot of guys running 586s and doing well. Even when I went to DARE in LA in 1998, several of the LAPD guys were carrying their old 66s.

    I carried a Glock 17 back then, but would have felt fine carrying my GP100 and I had a lot of hunting time with it. Nothing wrong with the revolver, then or now, and guys can usually shoot them just fine!

  4. I have carried revolvers and semi autos in my 25 years on the streets and over the times since as a civilian admin/instructor employee of a department of safety. After retiring due to a stroke in 2009 I became more aware that my “in the trenches” ability to clear, rack and manage a semi auto has been lessened. My favorite for decades, the 1911 styles, became impossible for me to manage well enough to consider myself “proficient with them. I still have smaller 9mms for deep concealed carry but for my primary carry now I rely on revolvers. A Charter Bulldog .44spl for cover and concealment and a Smith M22-4 .45acp for belt carry. I would love to stay with big semis but reality is here…I carry for a purpose and I cannot accomplish that purpose with any degree less than 100% proficiency with what I am carrying.

    • That’s a great point, about the semi-autos being difficult for some folks. My wife has poor grip/hand strength due to health problems so I set her up with a J-frame, which she can manage.

  5. I always wanted an M&P R8/327 TRR8, but I just can’t get over that lock. Yes, it can be removed or disabled. But it’s more of what it represents. It’s a blemish I can’t abide. My 1973 model 19 will do fine, considering I don’t carry it.

    I could foresee one problem with these revolvers as defensive weapons, and that’s moon clips. Bent moon clip is a real quick game over.

    I do find revolvers remarkably shootable with fairly powerful loads. It’s rather entertaining to throw a .357 in with a bunch of .38 in a cylinder and try to guess which is which. I think the noise gives it away more than anything. Call me recoil insensitive.

  6. Does the R8 work without using moon clips?

    Some friends of mine bought 625s and misfires were common when not using clips.

    • It can be used with or without moonclips. I have only heard of the misfire issue occurring with rimless cartridges.

  7. While I have no problem with a revolver as an off duty gun and carried a 3 inch 66-4 as a primary during half of my career as a D.A. Investigator, I would not consider a current production S&W revolver for serious purpose.

    That lock and the shoddy QA/QC of the current company calling itself S&W eliminates it from consideration as a defensive firearm, in my opinion.

    • I, too, have problems buying S&Ws with the lock. They offer a few without it, but my local dealer said he thought you could special order and Smith without the lock. Not sure if that is true.

      • I have a 442 that I ordered without the lock. I also have a 629-6 that has the lock. I have never used the lock and the keys are in the box. I’ve shot heavy Elmer Keith loads and 300 grain XTPs out of this revolver with no troubles?

  8. To the question above:
    Moonclip guns chambered for rimmed cartridges operate exactly as they do without the moonclip cuts, including the 327/627 series. In the case of non-rimmed cartridges like .45 ACP, moons are essential for extraction and ejection. Otherwise, in a properly-chambered non-rimmed revo, you’ll have to poke the empties out from the front of the cylinder.
    The the bent moon issue: there’s truth to that, which is why the best moon cartridge is the short, fat, .45 ACP, with its thick and durable moonclips.
    I’m born a 1911 guy but have done lots of revolver work, including years of USPSA Revo Division competition (prior to the division being rule-changed out of existence), to where my Webley Mk VI earned me a B card.
    I understand the charm of the round gun, but a lot of my affection might be due to age: back in the day, revolver ammunition had far higher performance that auto cartridges did. The bullets were simply much better. While many a modern handgunner gains cache by dissing Col. Cooper’s disdain for the 9×19, he had good reason: the bullets were worse in terminal performance than the .45 rounds of the day.
    A revolver like a .44 Special could be loaded with Keith semi-wadcutters that would outperform anything else that could be had. Even when hollow-pointing came along, the SWC lent itself to that upgrade, too.
    Maybe I’ve read a few too many Elmer Keith articles, but I still have faith in the design.
    That points to the revolver’s one big remaining advantage: it’s possible that it can use better-performing ammunition than the semi. If you put a Buffalo Bore .45 Colt 255 SWC load on the table next to the latest high-zoot 9×19 load (what’s today’s hot item? HST?), it’s hard not to consider an advantage to the round gun.
    That said, the lack of a manual safety lock and low capacity still cause me to go out every day with a 1911. In .45, of course.

  9. When I went through the academy (CLEET) here in Oklahoma in 2001 we had one deputy that used a revolver.

    Our annual state required qualification course of fire, which is also the academy qual course, is still revolver centric, with stages based around 6 rounds.

    Our (CLEET) firearms instructor qualification course is still the PPC short course and they still recommend that you shoot it with a 4 inch revolver.

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