Contrary to what you may see in a lot of the popular firearms media these days, the revolver as a self-defense tool is not dead. In fact, there are quite a few options available these days for those seeking a revolver for home defense, concealed carry or recreational shooting. But why would you choose a revolver when there are so many semi-automatic pistols available these days? Well, let me explain why you should consider one.
By Scott Wagner
The very first handguns I learned to shoot were revolvers. The first gun was my dad’s—who inherited it from my grandpa. It was a blued steel six-shot .22 LR Smith and Wesson .22/32 Kit Gun with a four-inch barrel. This compact J-frame .22 LR revolver is still available today in two different iterations—the AirLite Model 317 Kitgun with aluminum alloy frame and cylinder and the all stainless steel Model 63. Both have eight-shot cylinders. The Kit Gun was just right for learning to shoot at age 14, since the small frame wood grips fit my hands just right.
The second revolver I shot was a major step up. A friend of our family—who was a serious firearms enthusiast—took me, my brother, and my dad to the shooting range to shoot some of his guns. I was probably 15 at the time. I don’t remember what other guns we shot, but I do remember shooting his relatively new Ruger Blackhawk single action revolver in .41 Magnum. We fired the reduced-power police loading, so recoil was tolerable. From then on, I was hooked on revolvers.
Throughout my 36-year law enforcement career, I often carried revolvers on duty—the Colt Agent, the Smith and Wesson Model 19, the Model 10, the Model 65 and the Model 686— before being required to carry a semi-automatic pistol. However, I never gave up on the revolver for off-duty concealed carry or backup, and still carry one nearly every day. I tell you all this to explain my bias in favor of the revolver for concealed carry or home defense. But it is more that familiarity that drives my preference for them.
The 21st Century revolver has a lot going for it. Let’s start with the foundational advantages it has over semi-automatic pistols. Then, we can discuss the modern improvements that increases those advantages even further.
First and foremost, the double action revolver is pretty hard to screw up as long as it is reasonably maintained. Its reliability in undeniable. The old advertising slogan “six for sure” is no joke. It is easy to know if your revolver is loaded simply by looking at the side of the gun for the gap between the rear of the cylinder and the frame for the cartridge rims. Unless you are VERY careless, you likely will not unknowingly face someone with an unloaded gun. This characteristic of the revolver also works in reverse—there should be no reason that you accidently fired a revolver because you didn’t know it was loaded!
Speaking of accidental discharges, there is also little excuse for having one with a DA revolver due to the 10-12 pound trigger pull, which also acts as the primary safety for the gun. It would be EXTREMELY difficult to accidentally catch and pull the trigger of a DA revolver. The same thing can’t be said of modern trigger safety pistols.
Unlike semi-automatic pistols, revolvers are not particular about the cartridges that are loaded into the cylinder—as long as the caliber is correct. Anything from flat wadcutters to polymer tipped hollowpoint bullets will run—and the .357 Magnum revolver is the most versatile defensive revolver of all because it can fire both .357 Magnum and .38 Special cartridges.
The revolver has advantages over the automatic when it comes to close-quarter combat. The revolver is not as sensitive to being fired from odd (read that “any”) angles, nor will it jam from being fired with an unlocked wrist. In CQB, there is a very high probability that you will not be able to fire from the good two-hand firing position you practice with at the range.
Perhaps the most important CQB advantage of the revolver over the semi-automatic pistol is in the area of contact shots, i.e., when the muzzle of the handgun is actually pressed against the body of the attacker because the fight has become a hand to hand affair. Pressing the muzzle of an autoloader against the body of an attacker is likely to result in the slide being moved into an “out of battery” state, meaning that it won’t fire and is likely jammed. Not good. The revolver barrel is fixed and does not move, which also makes it more intrinsically accurate than the average semi-auto.
The revolver has come a long way in the 21st Century. Improvements include the availability of new lighter weight alloy frames that can resist the pounding of .357 or even .44 Magnum rounds, rust resistant coatings that reduce maintenance over the old blue steel models, increased cylinder capacity due to improved metallurgy, the use of weight saving polymer in some revolver frames, improved sighting systems that use tritium, light gathering pipes or lasers, and multiple styles of reloading that make it easier to make up for limited cylinder capacity. All these improvements combined with a myriad of holster and carrying systems from pocket to shoulder make the modern revolver ready for modern combat.
Reloading a revolver can be much faster than one imagines when using speedloaders—either the cylindrical type or inline strip type loaders—with a bit of practice. The Smith and Wesson Performance Center 686 offers a third reloading option in the form of the full moon clip. The cylinder of this particular .357 holds seven rounds and is relieved to also allow the use of full moon clips, which drops all seven rounds into the cylinder with one motion, and ejects them in the same fashion. This is the fastest reload of all. Keep in mind too that the days of high cap concealed carry handguns are waning. Single stack autos with magazine capacities of 6 or 7 rounds are all the rage. Single stack autos have virtually no advantage over revolvers in terms of ammo capacity.
When you search for a concealed carry or home defense gun, don’t overlook the revolver. More than adequate power and controllability, rock solid reliability, and excellent accuracy continue to be the hallmark of this weapon system. The modern double action revolver has been around since the turn of the previous century. I expect it to be around for the turn of the next one.
Do you keep a revolver for self-defense or home defense? Which model? Share your answers in the comment section.
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Charles Linder says
Very recently acquired a Super Redhawk Alaskan in .454 Casull. I’ve always wanted a snubby Redhawk, and when I develop some hotter than average .45 Colt for it I think the bruiser Ruger will be perfect for open carry ranch use.
Hopefully I will be able to land an holster capable of belt carry that doesn’t disqualify the big bore revolver from everyday carry under a concealing garment.
Even though Ohio allows for open carry in public, I’d much prefer to NOT -have to- trade hand guns before leaving the property to do errands, just slip on an opaque lengthy shirt & go.
Now, my preference would have been to get the Alaskan in .44 magnum, but beggars can’t be TOO choosy, and I certainly won’t let go of the grizzly gun when I do find it’s brother in .44 caliber.
I use a Mernickle PS6-SA to carry a Ruger SA 45 Colt with a 5 1/2 barrel during hunting season. The set up rides high on your belt up out of the way and is extremely comfortable. A long mid weight shirt over it and I am off to run errands in town. I highly recommend this holster it sounds perfect for your intended use.
Revolvers are optimum emergency handguns with their simple intuitive manual of arms, reliability and versatility when it comes to ammunition. If on the other hand you know you are going into combat a good high capacity semi auto would be a better choice. But if you know you are going into combat an appropriate long gun would be an even better choice!
I carry an automatic and a revolver with my AR-15 in my truck. The concealed carry are so small that it’s easy to carry one of each!
I’ve carried a Colt Agent for the 6 1/2 years that Wisconsin has permitted concealed carry. Upon occasion it was carried before then as well. It’s a 1966 version that I’ve owned for over 35 years. It is just as nice a little revolver as I could desire, shoots very well. We also have a 686 and Ruger Security Six strategically placed around the house. There are semi autos within reach as well. That four inch Security Six would probably be my choice if I was forced to only be able to keep one handgun.
L G Dobbins says
I use a brushed stainless Taurus Judge with a 6″ barrel. My first shot at less than 15 yards is three buckshot in an 6″ circle and I’ve got 12 more to go. Skip the 9 mil, go with something that’ll knock someone on their ass real quick.