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David Craik

My case for a revolver in the 21st century

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I would like to make my case for a style of weapon commonly considered antiquated today, but whose features have not been surpassed.

The lowly double action revolver. For decades I have advised prospective first-time gun owners to get one as their first handgun and for decades they have instead bought a Kimber .45 or some sort of Glock. These are fine weapons too, but have a greater learning curve and for the average non-LEO have next to no benefits in my opinion.

Let's start by looking at the benefits that an autoloading (semi-automatic - though for convenience I will refer to these type weapons as "autos") weapon does have.

1. Speed of reload. Though a dedicated revolver guy with a speedloader can rival a guy with an auto in terms of speed in reloading, for most people a magazine change is a bit faster than reloading with a speedloader.

2. Profile. Because most autos have a flatter profile, they are easier to conceal than a revolver. Same with magazines vs. speedloaders. In this arena the revolver is hampered slightly by the roundness of it's cylinder.

3. "Firepower". You generally get more rounds with an auto. Even a backup weapon can sport 7 or 8 as opposed to the 5 or 6 in a similarly-sized wheelgun. And 15 or even 18 instead of 6 in a duty-sized piece.

That's about it. Perhaps I could add "customization", as many autos have a plethora of mounts and accesories that you can add: ambidextrous controls, magazine well flares, beavertails, mounts for laser sights or flashlights, etc.

They are also a lot "cooler".

Now, let's take a look at the poor, old-fashioned wheelgun:

1. A revolver will accept any bullet profile. Truncated points, FMj, SJHP, wadcutters...makes no difference as long as it fits in the cylinder. It will perform better with some and worse with others, but all will squirt right out the business end without a stoppage.

2. Multiple calibers. A .357 will take the full range of .38s, a 44. Magnum will take any .44 Special, a .22 Magnum will fire .22 LR and even .22 shorts as well.

3. Reliablility. A revolver doesn't experience stoppages, stovepipes, short-cycles. While it is possible for the mechanism to "jam", this is very rare. With a quality revolver you can pour sand all over it and stick a pencil nub in the barrel yet it will still fire. You can fire it all day long and it will keep going.

4. Ease of use. There are no levers, safeties (generally), magazine releases. You pull the trigger and lead comes out. Particularly for a new shooter or someone under the considerable stress of having to use deadly force, this is important. If you fear for your life are you going to remember to flick off the safety or hold the grip tight enough? Fine motor skills are the first to go in a high-stress situation.

5. You can easily verify it is loaded by glancing at the cylinder. You don't have to drop the magazine, pull the slide back, or look at a "loaded chamber indicator" that may stick up only 1/64th of an inch. You can see the bullets in there, and know that it is ready to go.

6. An auto can short-cycle due to something being in the way to interrupt the movement of the slide. Could be your own body, could be a slightly underpowered round, could be your hand if you stick your off-hand thumb near the slide by accident. You have to be conscious of the whole slide and what is behind it. On a revolver the cylinder has to rotate, but I see less problems with something hanging up a cylinder that a slide. you cannot rest most autos on something perpendicular to steady a shot, whereas you can hold a revolver barrel right of a window or door frame with no problem. Bianchi Cup revolvers even have flat sides for this very purpose.

7. Worried about feed lip problems, spring compression on magazines kept loded for a long time? A revolver has no such concerns.

8. On small autos there can be a concern with "Walther bite", where the web of the hand is in the way of the slide attempting to recoil back. A small revolver has no such problem.

9. Power. Generally, you have the option of far more powerful round with a revolver. Desert Eagle or old Wildey aside, you can get .357, .44 Magnum, even .500 Magnum with a revolver because a magazine is limited with rounds of this power. With large rounds, the handgrip starts to become unmanageable and cant hold that many anyway.

10. Defensible. Think of having to defend yourself at close range against a handgun which is pointed at you. Anywhere you grab on top of an autoloading handgun will interrupt the slide, rendering it capable of firing one shot, after which the slide must be manually cycled in order to make it fire again. A cylinder, on the other hand, is extremely difficult to interuupt, because it's well...cylindrical. And any interrupt is a momentary problem. There is no misfire or short-cycle, you simply pull the trigger again.

11. "Crunchenticker" syndrome. A term coined by Jeff Cooper, true double action autos are double action on the first shot, and single thereafter. Which generally causes one's first shot to be outside the group due to the heavier trigger pull. A revolver has the exact same pull for each and every shot.

This isn't to say an auto isn't a wonderful weapon. Many fine ones are made, and I own several myself. And if I were on a SWAT team clearing a house chockablock full of drug dealers I would insist on one. But for a regular joe that isn't facing hordes of criminals or zombies is it really necessary? Or would something simple and absolutely reliable be better? Given that most defensive shootings are against a single attacker at less that 7 yards away I think a good .357 stuffed with 125-grn SJHP is not only just fine, but optimal.
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Updated 11-19-2011 at 17:07 by David Craik



  1. TonyU's Avatar
    Nice blog David. Thanks.
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  2. David Craik's Avatar
    Thanks Tony.
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  3. jjaje's Avatar

    Great post, two things I would like to add:

    I'm just an enthusiast and not military or LEO. I have both semi-autos and revolvers. Single action revolvers too when I practiced Cowboy Action Shooting.

    (1) I can't say this for everyone, but for me, learning to shoot a single action revolver well, with its limitations of being slower to shoot/reload made me a much better handgun shooter overall. I started with the semi-auto and went to the revolver. If I had to do it over again I'd do the revolver first then move to the semi-auto.

    (2) Revolvers are, in my opinion, more fun to shoot than autos. I can't put my finger on the why, but I enjoy it more.
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  4. Jonathan Randall's Avatar
    Great article, David. This is excellent information - particularly as it comes from someone with your background.
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  5. Abbax8's Avatar
    I have a lot to learn! Thank You !
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  6. KnghtAzrael's Avatar
    Excellent post David. You seem to have some great reasoning in it. I have both and like both but my fav will always be my first one a S&W 686 Combat magnum. It just feels like no matter what it will work.
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  7. Don Roley's Avatar
    Great article!
    I personally think that revolvers should be the choice of the average person looking for self defense carry. The big advantage of most automatics is that they are capable of firing a lot of rounds. However, the civilian has no need to pursue criminals and is best served trying to disengage ASAP. The mere fact that a victim would have a handgun would deter most criminals. Unless you slept with the guy's wife, or burned him on a drug deal, most criminals will not be eager to pursue an armed opponent. So having 30 or more rounds available is not really all that needed IMO. 6 rounds for self defense seems enough for most folks.
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  8. Erik's Avatar
    Re-read again. Wonderful article, David.
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