S&W 327 M&P R8 projects an all-business appearance. Hornady ammunition provided great accuracy during testing.
I like to think of myself as a progressive, forward-thinking individual when it comes to firearm design and trends. I take pride in quickly perceiving the advantages of polymer construction and the new safe-action triggers heralded by Glock. The re-emergent popularity of the classic 1911—with many manufacturers offering features as standard that were once custom—is another bandwagon I quickly jumped on. I have several “black rifles” and still get looks when I show up in deer camp with an AR-10 or prairie dog fields with an AR-15 variant.
So what was I doing at my local firearms store, drooling over a newly received Smith & Wesson revolver? I had merely stopped by for my weekly therapy session, which means I was hiding out from work and spouse, when the revolver caught my eye. It upended all my preconceived notions and turned my orderly world chaotic. I had always given the revolver its due as a masterpiece of 19th century firearm design, but it was an anachronism not supposed to be able to compete in the 21st century, let alone make me stop in my tracks.
Holsters used with M&P R8. General leather holster proved the most utilitarian, especially in cross-draw mode.
I am familiar with the new “X” frame .500 S&W and .460 S&W behemoths from Smith & Wesson taking the sporting world by storm with new definitions of handgun power and potency. The use of scandium and titanium in the quest to make the classic snub nose weigh in not much above a feather also comes to mind as true advances for revolver technology. Still, how had a revolver caught my eye?
It was unlike any other revolver I had ever seen. Here was a revolver with a tactical flair—yes, tactical. What an oxymoron—a tactical revolver. It had an integral accessory rail machined into the barrel shroud and another mounted on top of the frame for lights, lasers, optical sights or anything else one might feel is necessary to hang on a handgun. The black matte finish contributed to the sinister, all business image. The particular revolver I am speaking of is the new Model 327 M&P R8 from the S&W Performance Center. I purchased the new S&W before a price tag could be placed on it. Let me describe my ensuing scrutiny and evaluation of the S&W Model 327 M&P R8 and how it proved itself worthy of the tactical moniker.
Author tested S&W 327 on plate racks, bowling pins, steel poppers and other training aids at the range.
The S&W Model 327 M&P R8 might be a revolver, but it has features worthy of the 21st century. The S&W Model 327 M&P R8 receives the following treatment from the Performance Center: 1) Wolff mainspring and traditional sear for smooth double-action trigger, 2) polished button polygonal rifling in the custom Walther barrel, 3) precision barrel forcing cone, 4) optimum barrel cylinder gap, 5) chamfered charge holes, 6) ball detent cylinder lock-up, 7) forged hammer and trigger that are flashed chromed, 8) tuned action, 9) cylinder relieved to accept moonclips. Pretty impressive stuff.
The M&P R8 is based on the S&W “N” frame, of Model 29 .44 Mag fame, constructed of scandium alloy except the two-piece barrel insert and stainless steel cylinder, which holds eight rounds of .357 Magnum! Weight is 36.3 oz and the five-inch barrel contributes to an overall length of ten and one-half inches. The barrel and shroud are separate components. The custom Walther barrel is secured inside the barrel shroud by a special lock nut system used by S&W.
Close up of top accessory rail on M&P R8. It is simple to remove with four Allen head screws. Even when mounted, the revolver’s open sights are easily accessed.
Accuracy from the custom Walther barrel met expectations, keeping five rounds from each of the three Hornady Custom JHP/XTP loadings (125-gr., 140-gr., and 158-gr.) under two inches at 25 yards. It was obvious the M&P R8 could outperform my shooting abilities.
The black rubber grips and large frame helped to tame the .357 Magnum recoil and allowed for fast target reacquisition. Fellow shooters at the range were drawn to the M&P R8’s aesthetics and impressed by its performance off the bench and other field tests. Anecdotally, clay pigeons were routinely shattered at 35 yards firing offhand. I evaluated the M&P R8 with numerous trips to a private range equipped with falling plate racks, man popper steel plate targets, a dueling tree and other training devices. Many raised eyebrows were apparent when two more shots sounded after the customary six were fired.
ATN Digital Ultra reflex sight adds to usability and effectiveness of M&P R8. Insight M3 light completes package. Finding suitable means to carry the revolver is obviously a challenge when fully outfitted.
The M&P R8’s eight-round capacity is a 33% increase in firepower over the six-holed revolver cylinders we are more accustomed to. The .357 Magnum cartridge represents the near perfect combination of controllability, power, accuracy and lethality in a pistol cartridge. Eight 125-gr. 357 Magnum rounds combine for 4,992 foot-pounds of energy. To equal this, you need 15 rounds of 9mm, 11 rounds of .40 S&W, and 13 rounds of .45 ACP. This is not a scientific study, but I think it gets my point across.
It’s no surprise that I favored the single-action trigger for my range work. The single-action trigger measured a crisp 3.5-4.0 pounds using an RCBS trigger gauge with no creep. The double-action trigger pull, even on a Performance Center tuned revolver, is something not easily mastered at ranges past 10 yards in terms of accuracy. A mantra for all firearms instructors is the importance of trigger control for accurate shooting. Many may take me to task for this, but I feel the double-action trigger should be saved for CQB encounters and ranges measured in feet.Use single-action for aimed fire at anything beyond room distance.
The moonclips included with the Model 327 M&P R8 are a bonus feature and show the S&W Performance Center attention to detail. The ability to use either moonclips or regular loading methods is a feature often reserved for high-end pistolsmith work. One criticism I have of the moonclips is that the rounds should be held more snugly, minimizing lateral movement. This would speed up reload times when using the moonclips. For comparison’s sake, I did a search on the Internet for eight-round speedloaders, without success. I averaged four to seven seconds between last round fired, eject empties from the cylinder, load eight fresh rounds, and resume firing with the moonclips. Of course, practice will reduce the reload times with the M&P R8. Admittedly, this time is slower than what can be expected from a magazine-fed semiautomatic.
Moonclips allow for quick, efficient loading of eight-shot cylinder.
The accessory rail on top of the frame is fastened by four Allen head screws and can be removed. This adds great flexibility in setting up the M&P R8 for individual needs. The rail is notched, allowing the use of the open sights when the rail is mounted. I leave the rail mounted on my pistol full time as it in no way hinders using the adjustable “V” notch rear sight and very visible interchangeable Partridge white dot front sight. Readers beware of an earlier production run of M&P R8s named TRR8, which did not have the top accessory rail notched, allowing the use of the open sights when mounted.
I mounted an ATN Digital Ultra Sight on the accessory rail. It not only contributed to the CDI (Chicks Dig It) factor, but also markedly improved the effectiveness of the revolver in rapid action drills involving plate racks and steel popper targets. One of the biggest advantages I found using the ATN Digital Ultra Sight was that I could keep both eyes open when engaging targets. This allowed for smoother, quicker runs on the plate racks and bowling pins. The ATN sight has five different reticle patterns with multiple brightness levels to choose from based on user preference. I favored the post style. The ATN reflex sight withstood the recoil dished out. The ATN sight, combined with the flat shooting .357 Magnum, would make any target, even at 100 to 150 yards, quickly find suitable cover.
Visual illustration of .357 Magnum’s potency by comparing number of rounds needed in other calibers to equal .357 Magnum’s muzzle energy.
Another .357 Magnum advantage is the ability to “download” it for use by novice shooters or youths by simply loading .38 Special cartridges. This is not something to be underestimated. I practice with .38 Special rounds when I want to work on shooting fundamentals without wrestling with the .357’s full power recoil and muzzle blast. Practice with .38 Specials can aid in building confidence and expose recoil-induced bad habits. However, do not overdo the .38 Special range time in lieu of practicing with .357 Magnum rounds. I use Sellier & Bellott .357 Magnum 158-gr. soft point loads regularly at the range. The Sellier & Bellott loads closely duplicate my Hornady carry loads. Superstitious or not, I do not leave the range without firing a cylinder of the full power loads last.
Holster options are limited at this time, due to the unique barrel profile with the integral accessory rail. I found general holsters for large frame revolvers had a better chance of working than any molded for a specific model. My assault vest with built-in holster platform and also my tactical thigh rigs worked well. This is convenient considering what the Model 327 M&P R8 was designed for. One note: usable holsters will become even harder to find with the ATN sight mounted.
The M&P R8 design impetus stemmed from police tactical teams experiencing malfunction problems with the slides of their semiautomatic pistols coming into contact with their ballistic shields when engaging a target. S&W quickly stepped in to fill the void. Honestly, the M&P R8 will never take over the police or military tactical markets. The semiautomatics perform and function too well for this. However, I do predict the M&P R8 will find increasing use as a weapon for point men or other specialty roles. For individuals not concerned with such specific tactical matters, the S&W Model M&P 327 R8 will give solid performance as a self-defense weapon. It is a custom tactical revolver designed to excel in a much harsher environment than your home. It will surely stand up to the rigors expected from the use private citizens will subject it to. The ability to mount a light/laser, combined with reliable, simple functioning and one-shot stopping power, is a premium no matter who the user is.
The M&P R8 will be a “nightstand” or vehicle-based gun more than a concealed carry weapon due to size constraints. However, those of us “blessed” with distinct fall/winter seasons could carry it in combination with cold weather clothing such as sweatshirts, vests and coats.
I was initially drawn to the S&W Model 327 M&P R8 by its appearance and the thought of .357 Magnum power with revolver reliability. Semiautomatic designers are constantly trying to duplicate the .357 Magnum’s ballistic performance and capture it in a semiautomatic platform.
The .357 Magnum has served as the benchmark cartridge for law enforcement and personal defense since its introduction in 1935. The 327 M&P R8 holds it own, not only for a revolver, but also in terms used to measure any handgun type.
Smith & Wesson
2100 Roosevelt Avenue
Springfield, MA 01104
American Technologies Network Corporation
20 S. Linden Ave. Suite 1B,
South San Francisco, CA 94080
Hornady Mfg. Co.
Grand Island, NE 68802-1848