Gun Review: Smith & Wesson Model 610 N-Frame 10mm Revolver

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S&W Model 610 N-Frame 10mm (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Years ago, I started searching for the ultimate town and country handgun. I wanted a pistol that could handle wild pigs, errant coyotes, and the occasional white tail deer if the opportunity presented itself.  The same gun needed to perform double duty for personal defense and be small enough to reasonably conceal under an untucked shirt. At the time, the 4″ Smith & Wesson Model 610 was high on my list of candidates, but I could just never find one available.

The good Lord provides. I finally scored a new 610 and put it through its paces.

Smith & Wesson Model 610 N-Frame 10mm Revolver
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com

The 10mm is a respectable cartridge in terms of power, but it’s a bit of a compromise round. More than enough for most civilian self-defense encounters, it’s a just adequate cartridge for handgun hunting.

The opposite is also true. The 10mm is plenty for any self-defense encounter against bipedal antagonists. In the hands of a competent hunter, it’s enough to take deer, black bear, and pigs at short ranges.

Smith & Wesson Model 610 N-Frame 10mm Revolver
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com

With fewer rounds on tap and slower reloads than the semi-autos the cartridge was originally made for, the benefits of a 10mm revolver are few. One, revolvers will cycle anything you can fit in the chamber. From the most anemic 120gr custom .40S&W plinker to the stoutest 220gr 10mm bear load, the weight and charge just don’t matter, at least when it comes to cycling the gun.

The other advantage may be more important. The revolver still fires, and cycles, with the muzzle pressed hard against an object, and it’s more likely than a semi-auto to work with hair and dirt in the action. For those concerned with defense against furry foes, that should remain a significant concern.

Smith & Wesson Model 610 N-Frame 10mm Revolver
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com

As the 10mm isn’t rimmed for use in revolvers, the cartridges are held in place using tried and true moon clips. Two are supplied by S&W with the Model 610.

The factory moon clips are overly loose making storage impossible and loading overly difficult, as rounds keep falling out of the clip. There was some benefit to this, as removing spent casings was easy even without a tool.

Invest in a set of quality TK moon clips. You’ll need a tool to remove the empties with TK clips, but you’ll find the tighter hold allows you to store multiple moon clips fully loaded, and they don’t move around as much while inserting the rounds into the cylinder.

Of course, since it’s a revolver using moon clips, that also means that .40S&W cartridges will load and fire just fine, making practice time easier on your wallet and wrist.

Almost the diametric opposite of the (exceptional) pre-war Smiths, the full underlug and DX sight base give the new N-Frames a tough, bulldog look, with any barrel length. With the 4″ barrel of this Model 610 (it also comes in 6.5″) that’s especially the case.

Smith & Wesson Model 610 N-Frame 10mm Revolver
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

Even with that shorter barrel, the N-Frame Model 610 is no lightweight, tipping the scales at just over 2½ pounds. That said, with a quality Bianchi OWB holster and a Simply Rugged gun belt, I found carrying this revolver on several hunts no issue at all.

The finish is Smith & Wesson’s standard stainless. It’s okay. Wipe it down good and you’ll see a bit of a reflection, but it’s by no means a high polish. The hardened steel hammer and trigger shoe make nice accents to the otherwise uniform finish.

Smith & Wesson Model 610 N-Frame 10mm Revolver
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com

The standard grip on the Model 610 is the molded rubber style with finger grooves. These grips do a fine job a mitigating recoil for most shooters. If you’ve got size large hands, they’re likely to put the ol’ “power crease” of you index finger in a perfect position. What’s really great about them is their ability to provide a solid grip even when your hands are dirty, wet, or sweaty. No small consideration.

That said, I still don’t like them. Not S&Ws in particular, but any of the stock rubber grips any manufacturer uses. A set of quality custom grips that take into account the shape of the individual shooter’s hands will outperform any set of rubberized grips on the market.

Smith & Wesson Model 610 N-Frame 10mm Revolver
Factory rear sight. Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com

The Model 610 includes Smith & Wesson’s basic target sights. As I said in my review of Dave Lauck’s exceptional sights, the S&W stock sights are just fine for a target revolver, but not ideal for “serious work”, as Mr. Lauck puts it.

They DX style interchangeable front sight comes from the factory with a serrated black ramp. The rear is windage and elevation adjustable and includes a white outline around the rear notch.

On the range, the sights stayed in place and never moved with recoil, and they worked just fine on lighter colored targets.

Smith & Wesson Model 610 N-Frame 10mm Revolver
Factory front sight. Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com

The front sight disappears on dark targets (like bear fur and pig hair), and the rear sight just isn’t durable enough. I swapped them out as soon as I could.

For those concerned with critical dimensions of the revolver, the cylinder throats all measured .400”, the minor bore diameter was .389, and the cylinder gap measured .0055.”

That gap is a little more than I was hoping for. To get the most out of the 4” barrel, a tighter seal is necessary. The upside is that even with long strings of fire, it’s unlikely that powder buildup will disrupt the cylinder turn.

Smith & Wesson Model 610 N-Frame 10mm Revolver
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

It’s probably just personal preference, but I’ve always felt like the N-Frames cycle better than any of the other smaller-framed revolvers. It’s like that big cylinder just wants to turn. Of all the constant complaining about how things were better in the old days, S&W’s double action cycle feels better than ever.

This Model 610 is on par with the other modern big Smiths I’ve tried. There’s a bit of stack near the back of the pull, but it’s easily overcome with a straight pull to the rear. Although I love my old snake guns, I’ve always found staging their triggers to be impossible, and I welcomed the feel of the more modern Colts, because they feel more like Smiths.

Smith & Wesson Model 610 N-Frame 10mm Revolver
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com

The trigger is S&W’s standard stock, and there’s no version offered that doesn’t include the cylinder lock. The double action trigger weight averaged 11 lbs 5.8 oz over five pulls on my Lyman digital trigger scale. The single action pull measured 4 lbs 6 oz.

For the most part, the 610 performed exactly as I hoped it would. No cartridge failed to load or fire in single or double action. If I worked the trigger, the trigger worked.

However, there was one consistent problem with this Model 610, and that was difficult extraction. After having trouble getting the plunger down on my first few clips of empties, I fully cleaned the cylinder inside and out. This did not improve the situation.

Empties were always challenging to release from the cylinder, and often required that the plunger be tapped on the shooting bench in order to get the empties to let go of the cylinder. This occurred with any manufacturer, but was much less troublesome when shooting .40 S&W, presumably because of less surface area from the shorter cases.

The most common cause for this problem is rough cylinder walls, but I’ve never experienced this with a modern S&W revolver. As I’m already having some custom work done to this gun, the gunsmith will see to it, but otherwise I would have returned it to Smith & Wesson for repair.

Smith & Wesson Model 610 N-Frame 10mm Revolver
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

Depending on the round used, the Model 610’s accuracy went from poor to pretty good. Armscor’s 180gr FMJ printed disappointing 3.6” average five-round groups over four shot strings at 25 yards when shot from a bag. The 180gr FMJ offerings from Remington and Winchester produced similar results. None of those commercial rounds were good representations of what the 10mm can do, either in terms of precision or energy delivered on target.

Fortunately, the groups tightened up quite a bit with heavier bullets pushed at faster velocities. Buffalo Bore’s Heavy Outdoorsman hardcast 220gr 1200fps (as advertised) round printed a full inch smaller, averaging 2.6”. My own reloads with a similar 220gr flat nosed wide-meplat hardcast round, although moving 150fps slower than Buffalo Bore’s advertised velocity, eeked out a barely better group at 2.5” on average.

None of those are particularly outstanding in terms of accuracy, but they mean that a solid marksman should be able to place rounds inside the vitals of medium-sized game at up to 50 yards. Any of the 200gr+ rounds pushed at or near their pressure limit would be certain to drop any of the deer we have around Texas Hill County at that range, and they’d do a number on any of the black bears, too. And yes, you can kill a brown bear with a 10mm, but you’d better be real good, or real lucky.

Smith & Wesson Model 610 N-Frame 10mm Revolver
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

Other than the issue with extraction, the Model 610 was a joy to shoot. Loaded up with most of the common 10mm rounds, the N-Frame soaked up every bit of recoil, allowing for fast follow-up shots and cylinders that were quickly emptied. Armed with a dozen moon clips, I cycled through several hundred factory 180gr rounds moving about 1,100fps. Buffalo Bore’s 220gr hardcast round at 1,200fps was a step up in recoil, but still very manageable.

Smith & Wesson Model 610 N-Frame 10mm Revolver
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com

Assuming the extraction issue can be fixed, the Model 610 would make a pretty good all-around handgun. The ability to shoot more than one round, both of which fairly widely available, is a big plus. It’s probably the most powerful revolver cartridge that’s still controllable single-handed in very rapid fire.

But the best thing this N-Frame 10mm revolver has going for it is that it’s kinda middle-of-the-road at everything, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

SPECIFICATIONS Smith & Wesson Model 610 4″

CALIBER: 10MM
FRAME SIZE: Large
CAPACITY: 6
ACTION: SINGLE/DOUBLE ACTION
GRIP: SYNTHETIC
SIGHTS: INTERCHANGEABLE
BARREL MATERIAL: STAINLESS STEEL
BARREL LENGTH: 4.125″
OVERALL LENGTH:  9.5″
FRAME: STAINLESS STEEL
WEIGHT: 42.6oz
MSRP: $1,139.00

Ratings (out of five stars)

Style and Appearance * * *
A foggy mirror stainless finish and rubber-type grips say “standard” all over it.

Customization * * * *
The DX style front sight makes swapping out your front sight for style or height easy.  There are also aftermarket options. Same for the grips. There are still more than a couple real gunsmiths out there who know how and care to work on these guns, making anything possible.

Accuracy * * *
With the right round, 2.5″ 25 yards groups, but most commercial rounds averaged significantly wider. Select your ammo carefully.

Reliability * *
It fires and cycles just fine, but if you need more than six rounds in a hurry, you’re in big trouble. The good news is that it’s an easy fix.

Overall * *
The Smith & Wesson Model 610 is a solid gun, but this one’s extraction problem is a concern. Without that, the Model 610 becomes a powerful, versatile revolver that’s fun to shoot, carries well, and has enough bullet to get you out of any jam. With one issue, and a lot of promise, this gun’s earned a spot in my “project” gun lineup. New sights, grips, an action job, addressing the extraction, and a change in finish are all on the list for this gun, and hopefully we’ll all see it again soon.



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