Concealed Carry

5 Reasons You Should Carry a Revolver

Recently a friend asked how important I considered accuracy in a carry gun.

I replied very important — the handgun I was carrying would put five shots into 2.0 inches at 15 yards with practically any load.

What was it he asked? A J-Frame Smith and Wesson was the reply. The revolver is far from outdated and, in some circumstances, is the best choice among handguns.

Let’s look at five of the reasons you should carry a revolver. I will make a point that I use both the self-loader and the revolver, and have different roles for each.

I would hate to be without either, but I began shooting with the revolver and it may be the last handgun I would part with.

Reason #1: Reliability and Longevity

Revolvers will take use, the self-loader takes abuse. A quality revolver will last many thousands of cycles.

Even at a high round count — 5,000 to 10,000 rounds — the revolver may be tuned up with new action springs and end-shake bushings.

Reaming a worn forcing cone restores accuracy. The revolver doesn’t have springs at rest when the handgun is at home ready.

The trigger is pressed and this puts pressure on the mainspring, rocking the hammer back then releasing it.

In the self-loader, magazine springs are under pressure when the handgun is loaded.

The GLOCK striker spring is prepped and the 1911 mainspring is under pressure when the pistol is carried cocked and locked. A revolver will last for decades.

I once owned a Colt SAA manufactured in 1899. It was all original.

A few years ago the hand broke, but I could still manually revolve the cylinder to fire the revolver! Revolvers are simply super reliable and long-lived.

Revolver Lockwork
The lockwork of a revolver is simple and durable.

Reason #2: Combat Ability At Close Range

This is the reason my backup handgun is a revolver.

If the fight takes place at intimate range, the revolver may be pressed into the adversary’s body and fired repeatedly.

A self-loading pistol would jam after the first shot.

Animal attacks are much the same. It is most common for the big cats to go for the head.

A revolver pressed into the animal’s body and fired repeatedly is the answer.

A four-inch barrel .357 Magnum is among my favorite all-around outdoor revolvers for this reason, and with proper loads, it may be a fine all-around carry gun for any situation.

If the grip isn’t perfect, a self-loader will short cycle. Not so the revolver.

Two revolvers
This vintage Model Ten .38 (right) is a useful revolver more than 40 years after it left the factory. However, the modern .357 Magnum (below) may be more useful.

Reason #3: Accuracy

Accuracy varies among revolvers just as it does self-loading pistols.

A four-inch barrel .357 Mag is usually more accurate than all but the most finely-tuned automatic pistols.

You pay a lot for accuracy in custom-grade 1911-type automatics. A Colt Python revolver is among the most precise handguns ever manufactured.

Smith and Wesson classic revolvers with modern tight tolerances don’t give up much to the Python.

Among the most accurate revolvers is a Smith and Wesson Model Ten. The Ruger GP100 is probably as accurate as the average Python, but not quite as smooth.

Man firing revolver
The author firing a reliable and accurate Smith and Wesson 1917.

Reason #4: Power

Revolvers are very powerful in the right chambering, that is why we call them Magnums. The .38 Special is a versatile and powerful cartridge.

With modern loads, it is a capable caliber. The .357 Magnum is among our most proven calibers.

The .44 Special and .45 Colt are low-pressure numbers that offer plenty of wound potential with low recoil — although each may be loaded much heavier than factory specifications if you own a Ruger revolver chambered in these calibers.

The revolver offers a good choice for those that favor one shot, one hit.

Revolver with two cylinders separated
This Taurus revolver features changeable cylinders. One handles the .38 Special and .357 Magnum cartridges, the other the 9mm Luger.

Reason #5: Versatility

The wheel gun may fire different loads at different levels of power without any concern for function.

A self-loading handgun will function only with loads in a fairly narrow band. As an example, the .45 ACP 230-grain 850 fps load is standard.

A slower load may lead to short cycles, a heavy load may outstrip the ability of the magazine to feed.

Let’s take the .357 Magnum revolver as an example of revolver reliability.

For practice or small game, a 148-grain wadcutter at 750 fps in .38 Special is a mild and accurate loading.

For general-purpose use, a 158-grain SWC at 800 fps remains a mild and accurate loading.

A 125-grain JHP .38 Special at 1,000 fps makes a good home-defense load for most shooters.

The .38 Special is often regarded as the most powerful loading an occasional shooter may handle well.

Moving to the .357 Magnum, a medium-velocity loading such as the Remington 125-grain Golden Saber breaks 1,200 fps with good wound ballistics.

The full-power 125-grain JHP may exhibit 1,350 to 1,440 fps depending on the load. This is excellent power, practically a rifle on the hip.

If you hunt medium game, a 158-grain bullet at 1,400 fps from a six-inch barrel works well.

If you need a load for defense against large animals, Buffalo Bore offers a 180-grain flat-point bullet clocking 1,380 fps from the four-inch barrel GP100.

A similar situation exists with the .44 Special and .44 Magnum. And don’t forget shotshells, which do not usually function in self-loading pistols.

Six guns, both revolvers and semi-autos
The author uses both revolvers and self-loaders. He would hate to be without either.

Conclusion: Is a Revolver for You?

Revolvers are far from outdated or an implement of the past. They are modern, reliable, powerful and offer many advantages.

When you have mastered the smooth rolling action of the revolver, you will be less likely to flinch during recoil.

For some, the revolver simply fits the hand well. Don’t discount the revolver out of hand when choosing a defensive handgun.

Do you like using a wheel gun for personal defense? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments section.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (25)

  1. I have semiautos and revolvers. For doing runabout errands or yard work, I keep my 856 with 38+p’s on me. That gun has never failed to fire. It’s very easily concealed. Depending on what I’m wearing I may also carry my Shield plus 9mm( a firearm that I’m very fond of), it is also very reliable. I am comfortable with either gun but usually I reach for my snubby as I know if I use quality ammo, she will ALWAYS go bang if I’m in danger.

  2. When my girlfriend started to talk about carrying a gun; I got her a new S&W model 19 classic. One of those new fangled double action revolvers. She shoots it well after some instruction and practice. She likes going to the range. If it takes you more than 6 shots; you better hope the bad guys are unarmed. I’m just an old country boy. My dad taught us how to shoot. I was taught to make every shot count. Ammo was expensive to us even way back then. Even when practicing; make every shot count. Learn and improve. By the way; my carry gun of choice is a Colt single action army in 45 long colt. Points good, hits hard. What more could you want. How many times you see on the news; they fired 53 shots, hit the suspect 3 times, and they are recovering in the hospital. You know I’m not making this stuff up.

  3. Back in the late 1970’s I attended a local University with a gun range. In a Combat Shooting class we used 30+ year old Colt and S&W revolvers chambered for .38 special. If you told me each of these revolvers had a half-million rounds through them I’d believe you. They showed the exterior wear marks on the bluing and grips showed their age.

    None the less they were smooth as butter and were very accurate. We only shot wadcutter reloads (indoor range) but it was easy to keep a cylinder full grouped under a quarter in size. Amazing these were WWII.

    1. Obviously you have never had to teach a male or FEMALE who have never handled a handgun and probably never will again unless they are forced to do so. I’m sure you and your friends are advanced and very experienced shooters and yes, you can keep your revolver groups tight. Unfortunately those of us who teach and care about all the people who have 2nd amendment rights, not just the gun advocates, have to consider reality. Striker fire and single action first shots are ALWAYS much more accurate than those of a 12 lb double action revolver. Speed has become almost almost as essential as ccuracy over the years because the bad guys have been training more often so today we have to address speed when teaching even though we all agree that all the speed in the world is useless if you don’ hit anything. I’m not here to argue over which guns are more accurate than others. We could spend days on that subject. I’m just saying that, especially with the new striker fired handguns, revolvers are no longer practical to teach people to use if self protection is the the goal,

    2. WOW!! It’s amazing how people bristle when their sacred cow handgun is criticized. FYI… revolvers are better tools for some situations, as are semi autos for others. For close range self defense, many people, especially non gun people, are more comfortable with a revolver. For many, a revolver isn’t intimidating, while a semi auto may be. As for the hand strength argument, that varies by person and technique, and is difficult to generalize. However, revolver triggers of <10 lbs. are quite possible while still being reliable.

      In short, carry what works for you and please stop haranguing those of us who have made a different decision.

  4. Ie: Reason #2. FINALLY a real life explanation. I’m a retired Leo and carried what my department dictated, normally an auto loader. Things can and will go crazy in a heartbeat. Yes, an auto loader will not fire at all if pushed into the body of an attacker. I kept a Smith J Frame as a back up. I will add one more consideration. I always used .38 spl ammo, but the carried revolver was .357. This gave me options. Good luck.

  5. This article’s “rehabilitation” of the oft-dismissed and -underrated .38 special round was most refreshing. At the business end–all else being equal–I would rate my chances of survival significantly higher from a 9mm hit than from a .38. There are many good reasons that LE and the military used the latter as standard equipment for so many decades. I suspect that, among other things, they rarely had to be replaced.

  6. Im sold on pulling out my old 357 magnum revolver, BUT, where can we find factory personal protection ammo now? Every site I check is either out of it, or do not carry it.

  7. Come on guys, this is the 21st century. Semis are not only just as reliable as revolvers but are much easier to shoot and carry at least twice as many rounds. I still hang to one snubbie for nostalgic reasons but my other eight handguns are semi autos. I will admit that there is a difference among manufacturers as far as quality and reliability but if you stick to the quality names such as Sig, FN, H&K etc. you can’t go wrong. The new nine subcompacts that are being made such as the Sig p365 are not only just as accurate but are easier to conceal and reload. I worked my whole life in law enforcement and much of it as an NRA certified Police Firearms Instructor. I was raised on revolvers but now that I’m 73 I have to honestly say that they no longer can compete with the new semis.And since Hornady has created the Critical Duty nines, there is no need for magnums anymore. Sorry guys, but the truth is the truth.

  8. a couple of more reasons.
    1: A loss of strength and dexterity for racking the slide on an auto loader, carried a 380 for years, found it more and more difficult to grip the slide.
    2: For those who do not have a lot of experience handling a handgun, with a revolver you point and keep pulling the trigger until fire stops coming out the end of the barrel.

  9. Too easy to just pull that trigger with an auto without a second thought. Would many shootings including police shootings be avoided if one more second was taken before pulling that trigger? I know there will be those that will respond with need for an immediate reaction, but don’t shoot the messenger, just thinking. For personal protection I carry an S & W Chiefs Special 38.

  10. I prefer to carry a revolver. As a Law Enforcement Officer I have carried both revolvers and semi-automatic handguns but still carry a revolver in .357 magnum or .38 special off duty. My duty weapon, by department S.O.P. is a semi-automatic in 9mm.

  11. My appreciation with revolvers started many years ago when I was issued a S&W model 15. Qualification actually included 6 rounds at 50 yards which was feasible.
    I purchased a a model 66 decades ago, and other than installing newer grips it has been my most accurate and reliable handgun.
    My “truck” has been a S&W Model 64, 3″ bull barrel loaded with 125 gr +P.
    The versatility of loads, accuracy, and reliability of a revolver can’t be beat. Factor in reasonable cost, durability, and idiot proof manual of arms you just can’t go wrong with a quality revolver.

  12. Ruger LCR or S&W 642 for EDC; Ruger SP101, 3 in barrel by my bed or field carry. Speer short barrel 135 gr. +P for LCR and 642; 125 gr. 357 jhp or 158 gr. hardcast semi wadcutter and snakeshot for SP101. Plus whatever range/practice ammo I can find. The only semiauto I use these days is a LCP for alternate EDC.

  13. After 15 years of home defense and concealed carry multiple semi autos, I decided to purchase a Colt King Cobra 3 inch 357. Surprised at how natural it feels to conceal carry and my first trip to the range I was able to easily accomplish 5 inch groups out to 30 ft. I have owned Glocks, Kimber, multiple SIGS all fine weapons, but the Colt is different, more of a work of art with purpose. Most likely will be one of the last pistols I carry.

  14. Back in the late 60’s I was in the Navy on shore duty and moonlighted as a night manager at my local McDonalds. Carried the days receipts to the bank drop box at midnight. Bought a Colt Detective Special at Kmart to carry with the money. Got out of the Navy and was a LEO for three years carrying my brand new nickel plated S&W Model 10 (old guys were jealous). Moved on through the years with the new Glock 17 with a mix of revolvers and semi-autos. One important thing about wheelguns is that when you pull the trigger it goes bang. No racking the slide or pulling the safety off. That is a big difference in a stressful situation. As for 6 rounds vs 10 or more. All you need is three. Two to the chest and one to the head. As for all the rest of the rounds, most people couldn’t hit the side of a barn even if they were inside.

  15. The man who brought me into law enforcement gave me his own backup piece, a Charter Arms 5-shot .38 special. It road on his inside left ankle for years before it took up residence on mine. I still have it and it reminds me of every lesson he taught me whenever I put it on. It has served its purpose more than once for him and has done the same for me. In the not too distant future,I will hand it over to my son when he exits the TEAMS. It shows the years of dependability on its surface without the expense of its accuracy and durability. I never have to worry about its performance and each time I clean it, it shows me that my confidence is very well placed. This is not so easily said by any of my auto-loaders. It is always the first gun I bring out in every course that I teach. I try very hard to get across to my students the advantages that a quality revolver brings to the table and I feel confident that everyone leaves my class with a better appreciation of the Revolver. Your article will be a great help to me in that regard. Thank you for stating its advantages so well. I hope you don’t mind me using your words.

  16. I’ve been a revolver lover all my life. I’ve been handgun hunting with a scoped Ruger Redhawk 7.5” in .41mag. for 3 decades. I also carry a 4” version of the same gun as backup when bow hunting. My EDC is a 3” factory DAO Stainless GP-100 that I have dehorned, beadblasted and performed a trigger job. It’s incredibly accurate with 180gr. Jhps!

  17. ETIREDE9, The NYPD swore by the 135gr Gold Dot Short Barrel before they required everyone to go to 9mm. This load was developed specifically at the request of the NYPD for the detectives/ undercover/ off duty officers who carried 38 snubs.

  18. I bought a snub-nose S&W model 36, .38 cal. in 1972. In 1973.a fire damaged it. I submitted it to a restorer who put it back in “like new” condition.

    In 2001 my arthritis made stripping and assembly of my daily carry self loading .40 pistol almost impossible.

    I dug out my little wheel gun, put on Hogue grips (my last name Hogue, but alas I’m not one of the grip Hogues) and it became my daily carry.

    It’s accurate out to 15 yds. I reckon any further than 15 yds. gives me ample opportunity to run.

    I can put 5 rds. into a 3 inch group at 15 yds. Well, maybe more like a 5 inch group.

    I only carry the 5 rds. with no reloads. I would like to solicit recommendations for a carry ammunition please.

    I love my little gun. Easy to hide, light weight and a hell of a lot less recoil than my .40.

    My wife carries a Ruger LCR .38 wheel gun that’s a hoot to shoot!

    1. When I had a Ruger Security Six 2-3/4″ barreled 357Mag,I found the factory 357Mag 125gr JHP,although according to Evan&Marshalls”Handgun Stopping Power”had the best 1 shot stops, muzzleblast/flash was horrendous.Having glaucoma and hearing loss,this is clearly an issue to me.I switched to:”the Old FBI load”:38Special+P 158gr lead hollow points.I have since gone to a Ruger GP100 4″ 357Mag.I still have the +P 158gr lhp as the first load,followed by 2 speedloaders of 357Mag 158gr JHP.I realize my GP100 4″is heavier than your snubbie but…
      If I were to return to a snubbie ,it would be a semi bobbed hammer in 45Colt or 44 Special.
      Only factory loads for human defense.If you iunsist on light in a S&W,look at their”Mountain Gun”
      For an auto,I’ll stick with a [full size] Glock 45ACP with 230gr JHP.Never was impressed with the 40S&W,better to go with 357SIG or 10mm.

  19. In 357Mag anti human defense,1st cylinder is factory 38Spec +P 158gr lhp[the”old FBI load”], followed by 2 speedloaders of [factor]357Mag 158gr jhp.Less muzzleblast/flash than the 125gr loads.I’d only consider a snubbie in 45Colt or 44 Special[with partially bobbed hammer for pocket carry]
    If I had to choose one only revolver,it will be Ruger GP100 4″357Mag or Ruger Redhawk 5.5″45Colt
    Incidentally one can get Speer shotshell cases for loading shot in 357,44,45calibers-better than a 410 shotshell.

  20. I have used a S&W model 10 as a farm gun for 25 years. Usually loaded with two snake/rat shot followed by four 158 SWC’s @ 850fps reloads. My belt slide carries a reload of this plus six factory 125 JHP’s. On occasion I also use reloads with two 000 buckshot loaded to @1000 fps. These will normally group within 3″ of each other at 15 yds. A 4″ centerfire revolver is the most useful handgun in existence.

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