Is there a noticeable difference in accuracy between Colt and S&W revolvers?

View Poll Results: Is there a noticeable difference in accuracy between Colt and S&W revolvers?

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  • Yes, Colts are more accurate all other things being equal.

    28 23.33%
  • Yes, Smith & Wessons are more accurate, all other things being equal.

    15 12.50%
  • No, there's no measureable difference (from the bench, at 25-50m, with match ammo).

    77 64.17%
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Thread: Is there a noticeable difference in accuracy between Colt and S&W revolvers?

  1. #1
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    Question Is there a noticeable difference in accuracy between Colt and S&W revolvers?

    I just thought I'd run a poll and see if people think there's a difference.

    And by "noticeable" I mean noticeable on paper when fired from the bench by a skilled shooter with match grade ammo from between 25 and 50 yards depending on the gun (snubbies might be better at just 25 yards whereas .357s and .44s with 4" or longer barrels would be more appropriate to measure at 50 yards).

    Also, I'd like to point out that I'm talking about comparable revolvers, e.g. a Colt Python vs. a S&W Model 27, a Colt Trooper vs. a Model 19 or 686, a Colt Detective Special vs a S&W Model 36 (Chief's Special), etc. This also presumes both revolvers have identical (or nearly identical) barrel lengths, similar sights, and both have been equally well maintained, both are shooting the same type of ammunition (let's presume match grade that way any differences aren't attributable to the ammo), and both are shot from the bench by a skilled bullseye shooter (shooter is also match grade!) at 25-50 meters (or yards, same thing at this range really).

    Also, based on revolvers you have experience with, what type of accuracy would you expect them to turn in? If you've shot Pythons extensively, what size group would you expect from one under the above conditions where it's bench-rested with match grade ammo from 25m out? If you've shot Smith Model 29s quite a bit, what would you expect to see at 50 meters (yards) from the bench with quality ammo? Same if you have experience with Model 27s or 686s or Mark III Troopers.

    I decided not to include Ruger or anyone else as that would massively complicate things and add a bunch more options to the poll, but if you're familiar with them of course you're welcome to comment on them, I always like learning something new.

    It's that I've always heard that Colts were the most accurate of all revolvers (excluding really high end stuff like Korths, which retail for around $5000 by the way for those not familiar) and I recall reading somewhere (Grant Cunningham? Massad Ayoob? someone like that, can't remember) that back in the '40s, '50s, and '60s when police shooting competitions were becoming more popular there was a roughly even mix of Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers to begin with, but when the championship winners kept consistently turning out to be Colt shooters people slowly realized Colts were just a hair more accurate than the Smiths and that little edge in accuracy made the difference at the final stage of matches (and particularly championships) where everyone left was already shooting very small groups, and so after a few years almost everyone was using Colts. Anyone familiar with this story?

    What do you think? What's better for plugging a jackrabbit in the head at 50 paces with? A Colt or a Smith?
    Colt-SL and VaqueroAZ like this.
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  2. #2
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    The only in depth comparison I ever attempted was the Python vs the model 27, and the answer was no difference in accuracy. Tailored hand loads would produce similar results...both extremely accurate, and pretty much the same with factory ammo. I've owned and shot just about very comparable model of Colt and S&W, and both will usually shoot beyond the capability of most shooters. The "super" accuracy attributed to some models is usually a biased preference from one individual. As with any man made product, there will always be a rare inaccurate "lemon" appear and that gun will get widespread attention.

  3. #3
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    Wow, a tough call and one that after shooting for 40 years, I cannot definitively answer. I have had certain S&W's that would out-shoot certain Colt's. But I have had many Colt's that would out-shoot the Smith's. I've compared a 585 to a King Cobra in a head to head shoot-out and found no discernible difference.

    Obviously I could out-shoot a Colt Detective Special with a Performance Center 627-3 but, barrel length the same, I have also shot a Python more accurately than a Smith 27.

    Overall, given the parameters here I'd vote for no measurable difference.
    Tony

    “It's sad that governments are chiefed by the double tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carry the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life, or death ---- it shall be life.” - Ten Bears - “The Outlaw Josey Wales”

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  5. #4
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    I WANT to shoot Colts better than S&Ws.

    I DO shoot S&Ws more accurately than Colts, much to my chagrin.

    I think I shoot more accurately with S&Ws because the triggers do not stack, as the Colt triggers do.

    When I shot in the National Revolver Matches (the Harry Reeves and Distinguished Revolver matches) last month at Camp Perry (one-handed revolver shooting at 25 and 50 yards), it appeared from my non-scientific observations that S&Ws were used far more commonly than Colts.
    A lawyer, but NOT YOUR LAWYER.

  6. #5
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    The old Colt action revolvers were more accurate then the S&W system and that's due to Colt's high quality factory made barrels, Colt's old "Bank Vault" lockup, and the faster rifling.

    Colt always made their own barrels and with faster twist rifling. At some point in the 20th Century S&W started buying rifled barrel blanks that were not as tightly quality controlled as Colt's barrels.

    The Colt locking system tightly locks the cylinder in perfect alignment with the bore at the moment of ignition. This means the bullet enters the barrel cleanly centered and with less distortion. Distortion of the bullet affects accuracy.
    The S&W system leaves the cylinder free to move slightly at ignition so the bullet entering the bore can force the cylinder into alignment. This type of action is cheaper to make then the old hand fitted Colt action.
    Since the bullet in a S&W enters the bore slightly off center and strikes the forcing cone, the bullet is at least slightly distorted, and this affects accuracy.

    Most arguments about accurate Colt or S&W revolvers are anecdotal. You may have an especially accurate revolver or an inaccurate revolver, or you may simply shoot the revolver better or worse. This says nothing about the brand as a whole.

    I've always told people that if you could conduct an experiment to determine the facts, it would look something like this:

    You would buy a number (lets say 20) comparable revolvers by Colt and 20 by S&W. Competing models might be the Colt original Trooper and the S&W Model Combat Masterpiece.
    Both were medium frame, .38 Special revolvers with adjustable sights and were direct competitors in the market.

    The experiment would be to shoot groups with all 40 factory new revolvers using a machine rest and a single brand of ammunition known to be good quality.

    The results would look like this:
    ONE revolver would be more accurate than any other. It might be a Colt or a S&W.
    ONE revolver would be less accurate than any other. It might be a Colt or S&W.
    ON THE AVERAGE the Colt revolvers would be more accurate. You could use statistics to do all sorts of mathematical deductions including standard deviations, but the bottom line would be the Colt's were more accurate then the S&W's.
    HOW MUCH MORE could only be determined by the test results.

    We're not talking about a huge difference between the Colt's and the S&W's, but there will be a measurable difference.
    That the Colt's were more accurate is born out by the fact that from the early 1900's to the 1960's the top match shooters almost to a man used Colt revolvers, usually one of the Officer's Model's.
    They used Colt's because under Match conditions in the hands of the best shooters of the time they'd proved to be more accurate.
    In fact Colt owned the Match revolver market until the automatic pistols took over and the revolver more or less disappeared from standard matches.

    So, again the fact that an individual revolver might be more or less accurate isn't an indication of the accuracy of the brand or type.
    I have seen cheap, Saturday Night Special revolvers shoot astounding groups, and an occasional Python shoot poor grips.
    No one is going to claim that the Saturday Night Specials are a more accurate brand revolver then the Pythons.
    The only way to actually know the facts is a laboratory experiment to determine the facts.
    Unfortunately, today we can't do this because there are no new Colt revolvers that could be bought to be tested.
    22_Matt, srb, Colt-SL and 3 others like this.

  7. #6
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    With me, I can get more accurate results with a less accurate Revolver, when for some reason I happen to shoot that Revolver better than the inherently more accurate one.

    Funny stuff, but, it is so!

    One would really need a Ransom Rest to do the comparisons I think.

    And test a wider range of examples from each Manufacturer...and or a wide range of examples from elected and fairly narrow Time Periods.

    Too much trouble to do...who would want to do it?

    None the less I expect the outcome would be about 'even'.

  8. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by dfariswheel View Post
    The old Colt action revolvers were more accurate then the S&W system and that's due to Colt's high quality factory made barrels, Colt's old "Bank Vault" lockup, and the faster rifling.

    Colt always made their own barrels and with faster twist rifling. At some point in the 20th Century S&W started buying rifled barrel blanks that were not as tightly quality controlled as Colt's barrels.

    The Colt locking system tightly locks the cylinder in perfect alignment with the bore at the moment of ignition. This means the bullet enters the barrel cleanly centered and with less distortion. Distortion of the bullet affects accuracy.
    The S&W system leaves the cylinder free to move slightly at ignition so the bullet entering the bore can force the cylinder into alignment. This type of action is cheaper to make then the old hand fitted Colt action.
    Since the bullet in a S&W enters the bore slightly off center and strikes the forcing cone, the bullet is at least slightly distorted, and this affects accuracy.

    Most arguments about accurate Colt or S&W revolvers are anecdotal. You may have an especially accurate revolver or an inaccurate revolver, or you may simply shoot the revolver better or worse. This says nothing about the brand as a whole.

    I've always told people that if you could conduct an experiment to determine the facts, it would look something like this:

    You would buy a number (lets say 20) comparable revolvers by Colt and 20 by S&W. Competing models might be the Colt original Trooper and the S&W Model Combat Masterpiece.
    Both were medium frame, .38 Special revolvers with adjustable sights and were direct competitors in the market.

    The experiment would be to shoot groups with all 40 factory new revolvers using a machine rest and a single brand of ammunition known to be good quality.

    The results would look like this:
    ONE revolver would be more accurate than any other. It might be a Colt or a S&W.
    ONE revolver would be less accurate than any other. It might be a Colt or S&W.
    ON THE AVERAGE the Colt revolvers would be more accurate. You could use statistics to do all sorts of mathematical deductions including standard deviations, but the bottom line would be the Colt's were more accurate then the S&W's.
    HOW MUCH MORE could only be determined by the test results.

    We're not talking about a huge difference between the Colt's and the S&W's, but there will be a measurable difference.
    That the Colt's were more accurate is born out by the fact that from the early 1900's to the 1960's the top match shooters almost to a man used Colt revolvers, usually one of the Officer's Model's.
    They used Colt's because under Match conditions in the hands of the best shooters of the time they'd proved to be more accurate.
    In fact Colt owned the Match revolver market until the automatic pistols took over and the revolver more or less disappeared from standard matches.

    So, again the fact that an individual revolver might be more or less accurate isn't an indication of the accuracy of the brand or type.
    I have seen cheap, Saturday Night Special revolvers shoot astounding groups, and an occasional Python shoot poor grips.
    No one is going to claim that the Saturday Night Specials are a more accurate brand revolver then the Pythons.
    The only way to actually know the facts is a laboratory experiment to determine the facts.
    Unfortunately, today we can't do this because there are no new Colt revolvers that could be bought to be tested.
    Thank you. This was a superb reply and precisely what I was hoping for (not necessarily an opinion on one side or the other, but one that was well explained and logical).

    I, too, was under the impression that Colts were more accurate due to the cylinder locking up in perfect alignment with the barrel at the time of ignition (I was unaware of the barrel issue), so I was quite surprised to see the poll results almost unanimously (until about now) stating that there was no measurable difference. Now there are 4 people saying Colts are more accurate, 1 guy saying S&W is more accurate (would love to hear his explanation), and 13 saying there's no difference. And this is on a Colt forum! Fascinating!
    Last edited by ShootDeliberately; 08-18-2014 at 12:50 PM.
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  9. #8
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    I know this is a Colt - Smith discussion, but I remember years ago when Smith sued Dan Wesson over DW's advertising claim as the world's most accurate revolver.
    DW proved it in court (I don't remember details but had something to do with front and rear cylinder lock up?) and Smith backed down.

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    Here is my short take on this subject. Colt or Smith & Wesson both manufacture good firearms! I like them both, but prefer Colt. maybe its history, maybe its the action, maybe its the feel, maybe its the lock-up.......and many other features.

    It is like buying an automobile; some like General Motors or Ford and they will stand by why each one is better. I was a General Motors peerson for years and I had a problem with one. I contacted GM to work out a solution. I could not work out anything with the local area representative so I send information to the CEO of GM on the problem with a complete backup of documents. My response was "it is out of warranty" so it is your problem. Yep, out of warranty by 1,000 miles and this was the 4th repair required. I wrote another Letter, to the CEO (Jack Smith at the time) and got a nice reply from his oiffice.....yep, "out of warrenty" for a "GM Design Error" that they knew about! A final letter to the CEO that they just lost a customer who had been a 100% GM guy and bought a new car every 2-3 years. A nice return letter stating "sorry" nothing we can do. I had a resolution, I went to Ford! and now buy them!

    I am not saying GM has bad autos, but I want to be taken care of by the seller for a lemon, especially when it is a know design error GM kept quite. Firearms are the same way, they do make lemons so it is the CUSTOMER SERVICE that counts!
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  11. #10
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    Dfaris points out the faster twist, that in a slow moving 148 gn WC match boolit, could provide a substantial advantage. Twist rates within themselves are a compromise of available/common cartridges. Even though several revolvers could be compared at .38 calibre the rate of twist could be designated to perform better at a particular load/projectile.

    So, you would need to test different cartridges low/high power alternating weight/design/range to determine if indeed one wheelgun shot all better than other models. Using the empirical data of top match winners, roughly first half of the 20th century, provided we can deduce the high probability that the Colt Officer model w/.38 calibre match ammunition at 25 metres was providing the best groups.

    You would have to swap barrels betwixt the Colt and S&W to determine how much could be contributed to twist and how much to cylinder lock-up.

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