Retro 2,000-Round Challenge: Smith & Wesson Model 5906

posted on April 16, 2019

“Heavy is good. Heavy is reliable.” The Boris the Blade quote from the movie "Snatch" came to mind as I hefted the used 3rd Gen Smith & Wesson Model 5906 in the used showcase at Indy Arms Company.

The pistol showed all the hallmarks of being a former police-issue sidearm: scuffs and wear marks, a small divot chipped out of the MIM hammer spur where the gun had been dropped or smacked into a cruiser door, and a crosshatched network of scuffs on the lower right portion of the wrap-around Xenoy plastic grips, right where they’d been worn smooth by hundreds of hours of being rubbed up against squad car upholstery.

Also consistent with being a former issue gun was a level of mechanical wear much less than the visible finish wear. The gun had been fired, but not a lot.

I hadn’t spent much trigger time on a 3rd Gen Smith since the mid ‘90s, when I briefly owned a Model 4006, so I was curious to see how it would hold up to some serious shooting. The old metal-framed Smith & Wesson semi-autos were the last hurrah of that style of firearm; even with as many shortcuts as they could make with stamped, MIM, or polymer internals, the guns became cost-prohibitive to compete on the commercial market and drifted out of the catalog around the turn of the millennium.

This one, though, was three bills and change, so I scooped it up to put through the 2,000-Round Challenge, which I outlined here.

I was able to source some spare 15-round magazines from a friend, and I lubed the pistol generously with Liberty Gun Lubricant and checked the recoil spring before beginning. I had ordered a spare spring from Brownells prophylactically, but since the two were pretty much the same length, I elected to run the test with the spring that came in the gun.

The first 700 rounds were CCI Blazer Brass 124-grain FMJ. It dirtied the gun up pretty quickly, but was extremely pleasant to shoot. Since the pistol weighs nearly 38 ounces empty, even 124-grain target ammo gave very little felt recoil.

I tried a few other brands and weights of full-metal jacket ammunition, and the stainless Smith gobbled them all up with a complete lack of drama. It also had no issues with a box of 115-grain SIG Sauer V-crown JHPs at the halfway point of the test. By the 1,220-round mark, with the gun having not had a malfunction of any sort, I switched over to firing steel-cased Russian TulAmmo 115-grain FMJ.

Other than the mildewed-sweat-socks-soaked-in-ammonia aroma given off by the Russkie powder and primers, the test continued exactly as before. The Smith & Wesson Model 5906 didn’t seem to care about the ammunition change and kept chugging away.

Round No. 1,876 resulted in a *click* rather than a *BANG!*, however. I pulled the trigger multiple times, to no avail. I extracted the round and tried it in two other pistols, and got no results there, either. I’m chalking that up to the TulAmmo and not the gun.

Toward the end of the test, I threw a couple more different brands of self-defense ammo at the gun. This probably wasn’t fair, since I waited until the gun was at its dirtiest and driest before asking it to deal with feeding some more jacketed hollow points. I shouldn’t have worried, though, because the Remington Golden Saber and Hornady Critical Defense both fed and functioned just fine, taking the pistol to the 2,000-round mark.

Field stripping the pistol for its well-deserved bath, I noticed that there was still a reasonable amount of Liberty Lube on the rails, and although the powder residue had rendered it black and slimy, it was obviously retaining its lubricating properties. Also, to my surprise, the recoil spring didn’t appear to have fatigued appreciably.

The freckles of oxidation are a reminder that it's 'stainLESS' not 'stainNOT'.

All in all, I have to count myself rather impressed with the performance of the Smith & Wesson Model 5906. I think I’ll be keeping this one.


Mesa tactical shotshell holder
Mesa tactical shotshell holder

First Look: Mesa Tactical Sureshell Carrier with RMR Mount

Mount a red dot to your shotgun and keep your spare shotgun ammo close at hand.

The Best of the Blowbacks: Mauser HSc and the Heckler & Koch Model 4

In the April 2022 issue of Shooting Illustrated, this column looked at my all-time favorite carry gun, the Colt Model M or 1903/1908. This month we look at my favorite European semi-automatic, the Mauser HSc and its cousin, the Heckler & Koch Model 4.

Wilson Acquires New Ultralight Arms

The bolt-action rifle manufacturer joins other companies such as Lehigh Defense and Chip McCormick Customs.

First Look: New FN 15 DMR Rifles from FN America

New Geissele triggers, SureFire muzzle devices and hybrid barrel profies are just some of the upgrades.

First Look: Bond Arms Grizzly

Packing the power of either .45 Colt or .410-bore shotshells in a pint-sized package.

Developing Good Shooting Habits

Consistency and repetition are the keys to building on-demand skills.


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.