Grandpappy’s revolver might not be the ideal weapon for concealed carry anymore, but you should still know how to pick up and run one efficiently. Learn more.
The Revolver is the grandpappy of the gun world. While in modern form it isn’t the oldest design, it’s the oldest design that’s still relevant.
The revolver can trace it’s legacy back to around 1606, when the King of Hungary strapped up with the first cylinder-lock revolver resembling the modern design. It’s gone through some facelifts to accommodate metallic cartridges and cylinders that swing out, but the principle remains the same: A revolving cylinder aligns a fresh cartridge with the barrel giving it the ability to fire in succession.
Since the late 1800’s, the revolver hasn’t changed much. In 1889, Colt released it’s Model 1889 (super creative naming conventions back then). Often recommended as the ideal choice for those with weak hands or who “won’t train”, we’ve gotta look past these fallacies to get to the reasons that the revolver shouldn’t be relegated to purses or dusty sock drawers and why we should dedicate some time to it.
Great… another internet debate:
This article got its genesis from an article by “the Saker”, who makes the case that autoloaders are pointless for citizens. Many of the points we’re going to address here are specifically from his article, because while the revolver isn’t a bad choice, as a rival to the autoloader, revolvers require more work to do less.
There’s not much mincing around that needs to be done here, so let’s start with this:
Gun fights happen fast and the ability to fight until the other guy gives up or dies is a non-negotiable requirement.
To this end, revolvers start with a handicap in terms of capacity and speed. All too often, revolver guys justify their choice saying things like:
“…capacity matters a lot for law enforcement officers, hardly at all for civilians. Sure, it is better to have more rounds than less, as the expression goes “I rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it”, but cute as this expression is, in the real world capacity is simply not relevant for civilians.
Along with this somewhat out-of-touch advice, the author backs this up with some statistics and essentially says the following:
- Civilian gunfights are statistically low round count.
- Police are bad shooters and miss about 80% of the time (pessimistic, but let’s go with it).
- The needs of the police and military are different (this is a budding recognition of ‘Spheres of Violence‘, though he misunderstands it).
- The .357 Magnum is a mankiller, while other calibers are dubious.
- “Tactical Experts” are a bunch of shills who just don’t wanna have to teach people how to run revolvers and make money selling “nonsense”.
Philosophy and Practical Context
First things first…
If you roll with a wheel gun, we’re not putting you down. Regardless of your choice, we’ll work with you to find best practice but we need to be perfectly honest when we discuss the revolver: It doesn’t do many things as well as the autoloader.
Our goal is to always be an asset, so we go into the revolver knowing that, like a 1911 or shotgun, our weapon has handicaps that require more skill – not less – to run at the same pace as a modern high-capacity autoloaders. We’ll get to that, but first let’s make sure we’re all on the same page with regards to these common assertions and why they simply don’t work this way in real life. Our goal is to tie together three critical concepts:
- Statistics on gunfights shouldn’t be used to make decisions regarding how to train. They’re a very rough guide, not something to plan from.
- Handgun rounds are all anemic in comparison to rifles. Unless the round is placed where it can create damage to the CNS or rapid blood loss, handgun stopping power is a myth.
- Handguns are hard to shoot accurately under pressure. Recoil is a considerable influence.
A final note that’s more general: we don’t get to choose how or where we’re selected to be victims; therefore, we shouldn’t construct an ‘average’ that we expect to face. We should be over ready, in skill set, mindset, and equipment.
Part I: Statistics
Let’s be perfectly clear: ALL gun fights are statistical outliers.
Advice saying “statistically you’ll only travel within 20 miles of your home, so it doesn’t make sense to have a fuel tank that is capable of getting you 400 miles” would sound absurd, wouldn’t it? What if we said that statistically, you only eat 2500 calories a day, so it doesn’t make sense to have more than that in your house on any given day?
Living like that is problematic because it creates an excess workload and doesn’t take into account situations that stray from ordinary. Given that ALL gunfights are a stray from ordinary life, why would we plan around the averages there any more than we would travel or caloric intake?
Part of the ISG mentality is being a step ahead of circumstance, which means not accepting minimums or averages as a basis for how we live. This is what we see when the author advocates a weapon that limits you to 6 rounds as “best”. If that’s how you want to do things, that’s fine. We’re not spending our time doing everything we can to be average, though, and here’s why you shouldn’t either:
If you carry a gun, you’ve left the mainstream and are no longer ‘average’. Hold yourself to a higher standard.
That doesn’t mean you have to carry what we do, but don’t accept “good enough”, and don’t just plan for the average.
Whether that’s with a revolver or an autoloader, get as good as you can. For any emergency, we don’t want to check the box next to “I did the minimum”. Emergencies – violence in particular – doesn’t conform to our expectations, and making decisions based on statistics is a dangerous game. We want to be over-ready, in terms of mindset, skills, and equipment. Part of what makes emergencies difficult is they’re stochastic; impossible to predict accurately beyond a certain point. With that said, often the guns we have need to be – and probably are – good enough. Please just don’t make your decisions based on the minimum acceptable effort… especially when they concern life and death.
Part II: Caliber Efficacy
The .357 Mag. is indeed a fine cartridge but as we established in “Guns of ISG: Introduction“, the current gold standard of firearms incapacitation according to research at Cornell and the US military academy is remote neural damage. This requires ~750 joules of energy to accomplish, if we make believe that the world is a laboratory, and that all people are identically composed in terms of muscle, bone, weight, and height… The average .357 magnum creates about 686 J. That means it’s no more likely to cause instant incapacitation than anything else, according to the science.
With +P loads, the .357 magnum can generate kinetic energy around 836 joules – which does start to show effects… on goats… in controlled environments.
So we’re not looking at something that reliably produces enough energy to differentiate itself from the rest of the handgunworld, even if it is one of the leading performers. Recently, the FBI determined a few things:
- -Handgun stopping power is simply a myth
- -Police Officers miss between 70 – 80 percent of the shots fired during a shooting incident
- -9mm Luger offers higher magazine capacities, less recoil, lower cost (both in ammunition and wear on the weapons) and higher functional reliability rates (in FBI weapons)
- -The majority of FBI shooters are both FASTER in shot strings fired and more ACCURATE with shooting a 9mm Luger vs shooting a .40 S&W (similar sized weapons)
Given that all handgun rounds are insufficient to reliably end threats immediately, capacity gives us more insufficiency, not less.
Part III: Incapacitation, Follow up shots, Misses, and Capacity
If we synthesize the facts from parts 1 and 2 above, we can say two things that help us lead to a logical conclusion:
- We cannot rely on statistics to influence real world circumstance, and;
- We cannot rely on handgun calibers to cause the wounds we want.
This opens ‘Pandora’s Box’; if we can’t rely on these things, we have to focus on elements within our control. Since we don’t get to pick the quantity and physical constitution of the bad guys, and we can’t force our bullets to work exactly how we want them to, we’re left with a few things we can control:
- -Our level of skill, which is honed through continuous practice, and;
- -The equipment we carry to face these scenarios when they arise.
Because of this, it’s our view that training, tactics, capacity and recoil management are extremely relevant and important to the civilian. The 9mm offers low recoil, effective loads, and high capacity. The .357 Magnum offers slightly more kinetic energy, but science and tactical reality say that doesn’t really change things. It also comes at the cost of stout recoil, expensive ammunition, and a punishing shooting experience that diminishes training after a box or so of ammunition.
This is to say: don’t make caliber the main reason you choose a revolver.
As a final thought on this topic: We often say the handgun is the “Lowest Common Denominator”. Tactically, everything we build at ISG starts there; tactics, disaster management, home and personal defense. So, we are more than happy to present best practice for running the revolver: just recognize that on the line, the guy with the revolver is going to be working twice as hard for half as much gain.
Alright, enough of that – let’s talk about how to run the Revo, and why it still most certainly has a place.
Grip and Recoil
Grip is first. There’s prevalent thinking in the handgun shooting world that you want as much hand-to-frame contact as possible. When shooting an autoloader, this makes sense for two reasons:
- The auto requires a firm grip due to slide reciprocation; if you don’t grip it tight, malfunctions can occur (often referred to as ‘limp-wresting’).
- Recoil control (which is it’s own topic).
If you come from the autoloader world, PLEASE use caution in your grip. The cylinder/barrel interface of a revolver ports gasses that will blow your finger apart. Gripping the revolver should be more of a hand-on-hand grip than an aggressive forward grip, as with a semi-auto.
Another issue is recoil.
Revolvers have a couple things working against them when it comes to recoil;
- Most are available in Magnum rounds, which means people use them when they shouldn’t, and;
- Many people opt for snub (or pocket sized) revolvers.
Especially when combined, the revolver can be punishing to shoot. The larger framed revolvers with the right load will be extremely controllable, similar to a 9mm.
Even the snubs handle well with the .38 Special +P rounds. Recoil with revolvers is mainly a game of matching the right load to the frame and your level of comfort. Think of having a gun that can chamber a magnum round as you would a vehicle that has 4-wheel drive; just because you have it doesn’t mean you have to use it, or, as my dad says “it’s to get you out of trouble, not into it.”
‘Women and the Elderly’
They’re good for women, the elderly, and people with weak hands
This one isn’t really a myth – it’s true, but not for the reason people think. Grip strength is largely a function of technique but, no joke, there are conditions that prevent getting a good grip on an autoloader.
I’ve heard some instructor out there saying that “it’s all training” – it’s not. Nod to the Saker on this one – we agree here.
People have different levels of grip strength due to various conditions and a revolver might just work better for them. Automatically responding with “Get a G19” is how you get cases like this. We need to be sure the shooter is up to the task we’re trying to hand them.
So, no, it’s not ‘all training’. It’s equal parts physical capability, grip strength, and technique. In the end, not everyone is going to carry the unanimous G19. We still owe it to those people to find best practice for their carry piece and method. With women flooding the self-defense market, gone are the days where you can categorically tell people to just go shop the 5.11 store. Get used to purse carry, belly bands, flashbangs, and fanny packs. If you’re an instructor, get familiar with them. Especially if you’re an instructor, you need to explore best practice with these.
For procedures, it’s important to note a few things:
- -The revolver requires stability when reloading.
- -It requires fine motor skills, and;
- -It requires visual reference.
This means you’re going to have to break your firing grip, and look away from the fight. For these reasons, your individual ability to move to cover and stay working while your feet are moving is not optional.
This isn’t a huge deal, you should be doing it anyway… but it’s something to keep in mind.
There aren’t many drills for the revolver – it is simple, and that is a thing of beauty. Please view the video for a detailed explanation of the procedure, but here are the basics:
- -Find some cover and get to it. While you’re running for your life, do the following;
- -Use your left hand to release the cylinder lock.
- -Take the middle two fingers on your right hand and use them to push the cylinder out of the way.
- -Use your trigger finger and pinky to “hook” the revolver, while your middle and ring finger hold the cylinder in place.
- -Point the barrel up, so the cylinder is facing the ground. Pound the plunger with your left hand. Use the meaty part of your hand and hit it hard. Expanded brass can be tough to dislodge.
- -Rotate the revolver so the barrel faces the ground and the cylinder now faces up. Reload from this position, then return to firing position.
With its shortcomings acknowledged, the revolver wouldn’t be around if it didn’t have some strengths.
The revolver in it’s most common configuration is the .357 Magnum, which can also fire the .38 Special, and .38+P. This allows you to train with the lower cost, less punishing .38 Special, but have the ability to chamber a round fully capable of harvesting deer – the .357 Mag. While not a feature of every revolver, many have the ability to accept alternative calibers which can be of use. Especially in an emergency, having the ability to shoot three common rounds is a pretty solid benefit.
- No magazines
Magazines are a non-negotiable link in the Autoloader’s supply chain. Consider that in a protracted emergency, they will become fatigued, lost, damaged, or unavailable. While the pistol out performs the revolver now, it’s not impossible to think that it could be useful in a truly disastrous situation that occurred over a long timeline (Type III emergency).
Not being reliant on magazines isn’t the kind of thing we spend a lot of time considering, but an autoloader without a magazine is a very slow single shot. A revolver in such instances is almost certainly faster.
- Inherent accuracy and Mechanical simplicity
The revolver’s lack of a reciprocating slide means your main job is just recoil control and trigger press, and learning the point of aim and point of impact (accuracy). Because there’s just not much to the revolver, it’s forgiving with regards to malfunctions. Maintenance is basically just keep it oiled and make sure the barrel doesn’t rust.
- Ease of use
The revolver is mechanically very simple. Whereas autoloading pistols often have complex manual of arms, the revolver suffers from fewer mechanical stoppages (jams), and for newer shooters, there are far fewer components to learn, recognize, and manipulate. Revolvers tend to be long lasting, as well. Most revolvers are simple enough that the user need only concern themselves with the trigger, hammer, and cylinder release, in terms of mechanical operation.
This is a longer article than usual, but this is a longer discussion that we hope will be well considered. The revolver has a respectable place both in history and in personal protection. The Saker provided some reasoning for why it’s “ideal” for the citizen. We’ve offered what we hope is a good rebuttal, as well as the acknowledgment that the revolver does still have a place both as a personal protection tool and a solid choice for dealing with emergencies.
Finally, we would like to end by saying while the revolver may not be as fast as the autoloader, a little bit of training and familiarity goes a long way. Be well rounded and always be an asset.