Make no mistake about it, the .357 Magnum revolver is not only at the top of the heap when it comes to stopping angry, animate targets, it’s also at the top of the heap in terms of versatility. Capable of firing accurate and light-recoiling .38 Special ammunition in addition to its heavy-duty primary .357 Magnum ammunition, a .357 Magnum revolver can handle anything from target shooting and plinking to the hunting of large game and providing personal defense. If I were limited to owning only one handgun, it would be a .357 Magnum revolver. The only downside is that the cylinder capacity of most .357s is six rounds. Taurus addresses that six-round limit with their seven-shot Model 617 SS 2-inch .357 Magnum revolver.
Constructed entirely of stainless steel, the compact-frame 617 weighs a manageable 28.3 ounces. By way of comparison, the seven-shot Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum 686 Plus weighs in at 34.1 ounces. At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a huge difference. However, those extra 6 ounces on the 686 will definitely be noticed by the end of a day of carry.
The 617 is matte-finished with fixed stainless steel. The front sight is serrated for better visibility and fairly easy to pick up. The hammer and trigger are lightly polished. The trigger is comfortably wide and smooth, while the wide hammer spur is checkered. The cylinder latch release is also checkered and scalloped. The ejector rod is shrouded and the cylinder latches at the front and rear.
Grips on the Taurus 617 are finger groove neoprene with a pebble finish, rather than the Taurus “Ribber” style. They are compact and fit my medium-sized hands quite well.
The double-action trigger pull is in the 12-pound range, which is standard for most modern double-action revolvers. The single-action pull is around 5 pounds. There is a bit of stacking near the end of the double-action trigger pull, but it is still quite manageable. Safety is accomplished through a transfer bar mechanism. The Taurus key lock can be found perched unobtrusively at the base of the hammer, below the spur.
I went to the range with an assortment of .38 Special and .357 Magnum ammunition and my chronograph. (I felt it important to chrony the loads since the 617 has a 2-inch barrel, which significantly reduces velocity over a 4-inch test barrel, which is what most ammo manufacturers test with.) The loads tested (in order of kinetic energy delivered from lowest to highest) were Winchester’s 130-grain “White Box” .38 Special FMJ (www.winchester.com), HPR’s 125-grain .357 Magnum JHP (www.hprammo.com ), Liberty Ammunition’s 50-grain .357 Magnum Civil Defense load (www.libertyammunition.com), and Federal’s 125-grain .357 Magnum Personal Defense JHP (www.federalpremium.com ).
Velocity and energy results were not surprising, but the tests of four different loads did illustrate how you can tailor a .357 Magnum revolver to meet your needs in terms of controllability and the ability to shoot it accurately versus power delivered downrange.
The Winchester 130-grain FMJ ammunition (great for practice but not for self-defense due to the non-expanding bullet) generated no real felt recoil, making it very pleasant to shoot. Measured velocity was 716 feet per second with a mere 148 foot-pounds of energy being generated. The next load tested was HPR’s 125-grain JHP .357 Magnum round. Velocity was 1120 feet per second, with 348 foot-pounds of energy being generated—performance on par with a standard-pressure 124-grain 9mm round fired from a full-size handgun. Liberty’s 50-grain .357 Magnum Civil Defense round turned in the highest velocity at 1820 feet per second, generating 368 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. The top performer, in terms of raw power, was the “old school” Federal 125-grain Personal Defense load, which zipped along at 1252 feet per second. This translated into 435 foot-pounds of energy, which puts it just above a +P 124-grain 9mm when fired from a full-size handgun.
All four rounds tested were more than acceptable in terms of combat accuracy and shot to the point of aim at 30 feet. However, generated recoil was significantly different amongst the four tested rounds. I found the 125-grain HPR ammo pretty reasonable, while the 125-grain Federal load was more attention-getting. Due to the ultra-light bullet being fired, recoil from the Liberty Civil Defense .357 round was very light and could be managed by most any shooter. If you wanted to pack the 617 on the trail for defense against large animals, it could be stoked with 158-grain loads available from HPR or Federal for increased penetration.
When considering a defensive revolver like the Taurus 617, one must remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch. While lighter weight when compared to the S&W 686 Plus makes for more comfortable carry, it also makes for more felt recoil. The heavier weight of a 617 over a smaller snub-nosed revolver allows it to have a seven-shot rather than a five-shot capacity (seven-shot speedloaders are available). A shorter barrel means better concealability over a 4-inch or longer barrel, but it also means reduced velocity and potentially less effectiveness on threatening targets. All things considered though, the 617 offers the best of all worlds in terms of compromise, making it an excellent self-defense choice. According to the Taurus website, MSRP is $ 560.21. For more information go to: www.taurususa.com.
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