There are two good reasons to own a revolver:
1. You already own one of every other gun, and still have money left over.
2. Your grandfather left it to you in his will.
If you don't fall into one of those categories, click away now and we'll speak of this no further.
Still there? Great! Congratulations, by the way, on already owning just about every kind of gun! Unless you're a crazy person, you have two revolvers to choose from; the Smith and Wesson 625JM, and the S&W R8. The Model 625 fires .45 ACP, so if you love that calibre, that's the revolver for you (I'll review the Jerry Miculek 625 soon). If you want to stock yet another calibre of bullet in your GunCave, then read on and I'll explain why the S&W R8 is the finest revolver ever made.
First, you should know that Smith makes two very similar revolvers, the R8 and the TRR8. Both are 8-shot 357s based on the Model 627 and both allow the mounting of lights and optics. I like the R8 slightly more because the under-barrel rail is machined into the barrel shroud, while the TRR8 has a bolt-on rail, which I'm 99% sure will start rattling loose at an inopportune time. So, get the R8. Nobody knows why Smith makes two damn-near-identical niche guns, and nobody cares.
Smith and Wesson claims that the R8 was borne from the pleadings of SWAT breaching teams; the first guy in the stack, carrying a ballistic shield, found that his Glock slide was hitting the shield, causing a jam. Clearly, they needed a revolver, and Smith stepped up to Back the Blue. Never mind that there was already a dozen useful revolvers on the market. Never mind that Smith already made a suitable 8-shot 357. Never mind that the next guy in the conga line has a full-auto M4 ready to turn the fatal funnel into a foyer fireplace. Smith and Wesson came to the rescue and built another revolver, this one with a cool nose-rail, pre-drilled holes for a giant hunting optic, and a sexy new look.
I don't want to sound cynical, but I suspect that S&W wanted to find some new customers outside of the urban cowboy market they have successfully tapped for about 100 years. They sell it as part of their Military and Police line, so you'll feel like a Top Operator when you get yours.
Richard Marcinko, legendary Team 6 SEAL, preferred the 357 over the standard-issue 45 because the 357 would reliably stop an outboard boat motor, while the 45 would not. That makes sense- I hate boat motors, and the last thing I want is to be left on the beach while my enemies water-ski away, laughing at my 45 ACP impotence.
The R8, a product of Smith and Wesson's 'Performance Centre', has an OK double action, excellent single action, is perfectly reliable, and is as accurate as a revolver should be. When I test a revolver, I stand six feet from a Rubber Dummy, perform a close-retention draw, and fire at centre of mass until I click on empty. The R8 passed this standard accuracy test with flying colours, hitting the Dummy in the solar plexus eight times with nary a flyer.
Reloads can be effected with either moon clips, speed loaders, or loose ammo; moonclips are cheap and plentiful (at least in the US, good luck finding them in Canada), though even Smith and Wesson's own moon clips don't align the rounds perfectly. Factory moonclips are available from Brownells and are recommended, as aftermarket moonclips seem easier to bend (and therefore discard). Get lots of moonclips so you can pre-clip all your ammo at home, and consider buying moonclip loader/unloader tools (I made my own after seeing some on YouTube, and they work fine).
The cylinders are slightly chamfered, but not enough to make moonclip reloads competition-fast. Speed-loaders do a better job of keeping the cartridges aligned, but most shooters use moon-clips; a LOT of practice will make the reloads faster. If you really care, you should probably find a machinist who can add a little more chamfer to the cylinders. I also find that the spent casings don't always eject smoothly; again, more practice in the motion of inverting the gun and really banging the ejector rod brings improvement. If you're twisted enough to bring a revolver to action shooting, ask first about the range's safety policy about pointing the gun skyward; at some ranges elevating even an empty gun over the berm could get you DQ'd. Silly but true.
I have biggish hands, and the R8, part of the N-frame family, fits perfectly in my mitt. The gun comes up to my eye fairly well, though the standard front blade could be easier to find. I expect to switch mine for a fibre front sight the next time I'm at Brownells. Recoil is pretty light, even with the preferred 158-grain 357 Magnum ammo. I originally thought I'd practice with 38 Special to save money, but there is cheap 357 available; I saw 50-packs of PMC at Canada Ammo for $30, so blast away.
Part of the ostensible appeal of the R8 is the ability to mount a light/laser under the barrel, and an optic on top. Personally, I never shoot with a light or laser, and I like the old-fashioned simplicity of mechanical sights on a revolver. I can see how a handgun hunter would like to mount a little scope, which would likely extend the guns effective range out to about 75 meters. Keep in mind that while you can probably modify your Kydex holster to accommodate your optic, I haven't found any way to holster this gun with a light or laser attached. You would likely have to have one made, or get a Crimson Trace laser grip if that's your thing. If you do order the laser grips, be sure to buy a Crimson Trace hat, so everybody will know what kind of dork is shooting at them.
The R8 has a five-inch barrel and weighs about a kilo; Smith and Wesson claims the frame is made of Scandium (more likely a much cheaper alloy of aluminum and Scandium).
Most revolvers suck because they don't handle well, usually because the grips are the wrong shape, or made of smooth wood. Most revolvers only stock six rounds and are a pain to reload. The R8 solves most of those problems. Earlier, I mentioned that the R8 is the best revolver money can buy, and I mean that. It combines the old-fashioned romance of a revolver with the functionality of a modern gun. It grips well in the hand, runs reliably, packs a big 8x357 punch, and looks good enough to marry, or at least sleep with.