When I wrote my article on the Best Home Defense Pistols, many readers expressed their displeasure with the lack of revolvers. However, that list was intended to be a list of semi-auto pistols, not all handguns.
To right this wrong, here is a list of the best revolvers for personal defense, whether that be in a home defense or concealed carry application.
Why Choose a Revolver Over a Semi-Automatic?
In a market dominated by semi-auto pistols, revolvers remain a popular personal defense option for a number of reasons. They are accurate, reliable, and incredibly simple to use.
Revolvers are also very intuitive firearms, allowing new shooters to quickly learn and operate them properly with minimal instruction.
The trigger pull on a double-action revolver is something you must experience to understand. Though typically heavier than most semi-auto pistols, on a quality example, it is smooth and you can feel the mechanism working as it rotates the cylinder.
The added pull weight is good for self-defense because it will help prevent a negligent discharge (although it is still important to practice proper trigger discipline).
On double-action revolvers with an exposed hammer, you can swap between double-action and single-action trigger pulls. For most home defense encounters, you will only want to use the standard double-action press, but in rare circumstances where you have to make a longer shot, you may want to cock the gun for single-action fire.
Accuracy & Reliability
For personal defense, accuracy and reliability are top priorities. Due to the fixed barrel, revolvers are incredibly accurate. Revolvers are also known for legendary reliability, and are not susceptible to many of the common malfunctions that semi-auto pistols experience, such as failures to feed and eject.
Revolvers are also dead simple to operate. That’s not to say that semi-auto pistols are hard to use, but most new shooters who have never picked up a gun before could quickly figure out how a standard double-action revolver operates.
Choosing a proper caliber for your defensive revolver is important. Too weak and it may be ineffective at stopping a threat, too powerful and you may not be able to properly control the revolver and make accurate shots.
I recommend a .38 Special/.357 Magnum revolver because of the ammunition versatility. You can shoot both .38 Special and .357 Magnum ammo in a revolver chambered for the longer and more powerful .357 Magnum cartridge, but you cannot fire .357 Magnum ammo in a revolver chambered for .38 Special.
This allows you to plink at the range with the cheaper .38 Special, and then load .357 magnum hollow points for defense, or even use defensive .38 Spl ammo in a heavier-frame gun to minimize recoil.
Perhaps you shoot a lot of 9mm Luger pistols already, then a revolver chambered in the same caliber may be a deciding factor.
Further, there are some revolvers chambered in .327 Federal Magnum that allow you to fit an extra round (due to the smaller cartridge diameter) in a similar size gun and provide similar ballistics to a .357 Magnum.
Home Defense Revolvers
Revolvers are great choices for home defense due to their simplicity and reliability.
By no means is this recommended, but you can leave a revolver in a bedside safe for decades, pull it out, and fire without cleaning it, and it will function just fine.
S&W 686 Plus
One of the most popular revolvers for home defense is the Smith & Wesson 686 Plus. The L-Frame size provides a lot of mass to help soak up recoil, making this an incredibly soft shooting and accurate revolver.
The model with a 4.125-inch barrel weighs 39 ounces. This is a good size for home defense, offering good balance and ballistics.
The S&W 686 Plus can be purchased with rubber grips that further help to absorb felt recoil, or wooden grips that mimic classic revolvers.
The double-action revolver boasts an adjustable rear sight with a red ramp front sight — a common setup for defensive revolvers. The adjustable rear allows you to sight-in your handgun to your preferred load and adjust between .38 Special and .357 Magnum ammunition.
The 686 Plus holds seven rounds of .38 Special or .357 Magnum ammo, but Smith & Wesson also makes a standard 686 that holds six rounds.
Additionally, the 686 comes in stainless steel, but Smith & Wesson also makes some versions of the 586 that is the same revolver with a blued finish.
For an all-around revolver that can do it all, many shooters turn to the Ruger GP100. The GP100 is similar in size to a S&W L-Frame, but has a thinner grip due to the tang-style housing.
However, due to the casting process (as opposed to the forged steel on the S&W), it is a tad thicker in other areas. This is why I’ve selected the 6-inch version of the GP100. I feel it has better balance, and you get the ballistic advantages of a longer barrel.
The Ruger GP100 can be found with a green fiber-optic front sight that makes for a fast and easy sight picture acquisition.
The Ruger comes in either a stainless or blued finish, and can feature standard rubber or wood grips.
Additionally, due to the tang-style grip design, the grips fully wrap around and do not have an exposed backstrap, transferring less recoil into the shooter’s hand.
Colt King Cobra
I can hear it now, “Why not the Python?” I think the Colt Python is an incredible revolver that would be great for personal defense — if you can swing the increased price tag.
However, I believe the Colt King Cobra offers similar performance on a more versatile platform. It also serves well for home defense and concealed carry. You get the same six rounds of .38 Special/.357 Magnum ammo in a slimmer package.
I prefer the 3-inch model because it is easier to carry, but still provides solid ballistics when loaded with .357 magnum ammunition. The Colt King Cobra could serve well in home defense and concealed carry roles.
This stainless steel revolver utilizes a brass bead front sight with a built-in gutter rear, giving you a good, no-nonsense sight picture. Colt really delivered when they brought back this classic wheel gun.
Taurus Tracker 627
For the value-oriented, the Taurus Tracker provides a lot of bang for your buck. An adjustable rear sight, ported barrel, and shock-absorbing Ribber rubber grips come standard on the Tracker.
At 35 ounces for the 4-inch version and 40 ounces for the 6.5-inch version, the Taurus 627 has very little recoil and is easy to make quick hits with.
Concealed Carry Revolvers
Smaller revolvers make great options for concealed carry, because they can easily fit in a pocket or can be tucked away using an inside-the-waistband holster.
They also tend to be more reliable with a wide range of ammunition compared to most micro semi-autos.
Smith & Wesson J-Frame revolvers have been serving as backup and concealed carry guns for decades, and for good reason.
One of my favorite J-Frames is the S&W 638. Often referred to as the ”humpback,” the 638 features a shrouded hammer. This allows you to select between double-action and single-action, but the hammer cannot snag on clothing during the draw stroke.
Chambered in .38 Special +P, the 638 packs five rounds into an incredibly compact package. The Model 638 is incredibly lightweight, with an aluminum alloy frame and stainless steel barrel and cylinder.
For those with a good stockpile of 9mm Luger ammunition, the Taurus 905 chambered in 9mm would make an exceptional concealed carry revolver.
This steel-frame revolver holds five rounds of 9mm Luger and weighs 21 ounces. The additional weight, for a revolver this size, helps dampen felt recoil.
Because of the rimless design of the 9mm cartridge, the 905 loads using moon clips. Moon clips also make ejecting and reloading fast and easy.
Further, the Taurus 905 features a two-inch barrel that is great for concealment, and is available in a blued or stainless version.
Charter Arms Undercover Lite
The Charter Arms Undercover is a great budget revolver that delivers excellent performance.
This 5-shot .38 Special revolver is incredibly lightweight, coming in at only 12 ounces. This is made possible by the 7075 aluminum frame and two-inch barrel.
Additionally, the revolver features rubber, hand-filling grips that allow you to get a solid purchase on the firearm to aid in control. The fixed, minimal sights reduce the chance of snagging while providing a good sight picture for close defensive encounters.
Ruger’s LCRx is one of the most recent introductions to the concealed carry revolver market. Coming in several different versions and chambered in .38 Special, .357 Magnum, and .327 Federal Magnum — both with and without an exposed hammer — the LCRx chambered in .327 Fed Mag is the most noteworthy.
With a six-round capacity, the LCRx in .327 Fed. Mag. manages to squeeze an extra round in the same size revolver, and provides similar ballistics to the .357 Magnum.
The LCRx is constructed with a steel monolithic upper frame connected to a polymer grip frame with interchangeable grip inserts. This maintains solid durability while keeping the revolver light enough for carry.
The Ruger LCRx comes standard with a Hogue Tamer Monogrip, a rubber grip that helps absorb recoil and provides a good grip even with wet hands.
Additionally, the ramped front and integral U-notch rear sight setup provides a quick sight picture and will not snag on the draw.
Conclusion: Best Revolvers
It’s clear that there are a number of benefits to choosing a revolver for self-defense, and there are many great wheel guns to choose from. Whether it’s for home defense, concealed carry or both, a good revolver will serve you well.
No matter the personal defense revolver you choose, if you select one of the options on this list, you are sure to be well protected.