Colt Python vs Ruger GP100 vs S&W 686

Ah, the comparison review one of you asked for: the great mid-sized revolver showdown. Python vs GP100 vs 686 – which manufacturer comes out on top? Join us today as we present a piece of journalism that would have been really relevant in 1987.

How should we judge the epic Python vs GP100 vs 686 showdown? We’ll use five categories, and assign each revolver a score of 1-10 in the category, with 10 being best and 1 worst. At the end we tally up the scores. The five scoring categories are:

  1. Trigger pull
  2. Accuracy
  3. Reliability
  4. Aftermarket
  5. Ease of customization

There will also be another category, a “best out of the box” which indicates the revolver that, right out of the best with zero modifications is the best overall.

Starting our revolver showdown with trigger pull is only natural, because that’s the first thing anyone notices on a revolver. Standing there in the store they’ll dry fire it double action and think “hmm…smooth” or “lord that’s heavy.” The Ruger doesn’t do well here, since of the three it has the worst factory trigger. It’s heavy, it stacks at the end, and isn’t exactly smooth. It’s serviceable, but it’s not good, so 5/10 for the Ruger. The S&W 686 isn’t much better, because its factory trigger is also heavy, but it stacks less and it’s a bit smoother, giving it a 6/10. But then there’s the Colt, which has the best factory double action trigger on the market. It’s smooth, it doesn’t really stack, and it’s light. Our test sample after 2001 rounds measured just over 7 pounds.

Moving on to accuracy, the Python vs GP100 vs 686 challenge is pretty even. I gave the Colt 10/10 on this one, because it showed the best ability to shoot tight groups regardless of the ammo I selected. The S&W was a little bit pickier about ammo, so it gets a 9/10, and the Ruger was very picky about ammo, so it’s on 8/10. When I say “picky” what I mean is that it would only shoot 2ish inch groups with high quality defensive JHP or 148 grain full wadcutters. Meanwhile, the Colt was shooting tiny little groups with everything from lead round nose to FMJ.

Reliability is an interesting question with a revolver. Wheelguns are very tolerant of neglect, but not abuse. When you abuse revolvers, like shooting them 2000 rounds without cleaning, they tend to fail. During each of these guns’ cruise to 2k rounds, the Colt failed zero times and had to be cleaned zero times. The Ruger failed zero times and had to be cleaned zero times, and the S&W 686 failed once and had to be cleaned once. That gives the Ruger and the Colt 10/10, and the S&W a 9/10.

One area where the Ruger GP100 and the S&W 686 absolutely smoke the Colt Python is availability of aftermarket parts. The Python has only two types of speedloaders, and most holsters that work for it also work for Ruger GP100s and S&W 686s. Meanwhile, Rugers have grips, speedloaders, sights, springs, all manner of stuff. And the S&W 686? You can basically build a S&W revolver where the only parts from S&W are the frame/barrel and cylinder assembly. That’s pretty awesome, and it’s why the 686 gets 10/10, the GP100 gets 9/10, and the Colt gets 3/10.

Last, we have ease of customization. Lots of people who buy revolvers like to modify them, especially the trigger pulls. Rugers are relatively easy to work on, unless something goes wrong with the trigger assembly, in which case you need a gunsmith. 7/10. The S&W 686 is harder to work on, but more rewarding if you get it down, so I gave it a 6/10. The Colt Python is still…well it’s not easy to work on like the other two. There aren’t as many parts available, and a lot of the knowledge that makes S&Ws and Rugers easy to work on has disappeared. 5/10 for the Colt.

Who wins? The final scores are: Colt Python, 37/50. S&W 686, 38/50. Ruger GP100, 39/50. You’ll notice all of these are right within a point of each other basically, which should tell you something: these are all great guns and I don’t think you can wrong with buying any of them. That being said, if I was going to buy one revolver out of the box and absolutely leave it alone with no modifications, the choice is clear: the Colt Python. The Ruger GP100 and the S&W 686 both need modification to reach their full potential. Colt on the other hand made the Python nearly perfect right out of the box.