Budget Revolvers for the First Timer

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard revolver in .38 Special.

There are a lot of firearm purists out there and if you start reading forums, you will find many people saying, “You get what you pay for. Only buy a Smith & Wesson or a Colt.” A Smith & Wesson or a Colt revolver undoubtedly is going to be an excellent gun, however, both carry a hefty price tag. In my opinion, it takes guts to announce you aren’t a gun snob. There is nothing wrong with wanting an affordable gun. Honestly, I admire the guy who stands by his Hi-Point. There are plenty of handguns out there under $400 that are reliable, shoot straight, and are good looking. If you are considering your very first revolver I am not going to recommend a $700 Smith & Wesson .22 LR. I won’t recommend a piece of junk either.

Revolvers are perfect for the first time gun owner. They are uncomplicated, easy to work, easy to clean, have very few malfunctions, are reliable, and there are plenty to choose from. You can find a revolver in any caliber from the .22 Long Rifle rimfire to the big-game stopping .500 S&W.

Ruger Single Ten in .22 Long Rifle caliber.
Ruger Single Ten in .22 Long Rifle caliber.

Wheel guns work very differently than semiautomatic pistols. Instead of inserting a magazine full of ammunition, you load your ammunition into a cylinder. When you cock the hammer of a revolver, it rotates the cylinder, which then locks into place with the barrel and you are ready to fire. Pulling the trigger releases the hammer and firing pin, allowing the firing pin to hit the primer on the cartridge. Cocking the hammer again in a single-action revolver, or in a double-action revolver, simply pulling the trigger starts the process over for your follow-up shots.

When you are researching revolvers you will find three categories — single-action, double-action, and double-action-only. A single-action revolver means that you must pull the hammer back before you pull the trigger. A double-action revolver will cock and release the hammer when you pull the trigger. With a double-action revolver, you will not have to cock the hammer before your next shot. Double-action revolvers will also operate in single-action if you so choose. A double-action-only revolver will not work in single-action. Double-action-only revolvers usually have no exposed hammer. Hiding the hammer makes drawing from a holster smoother and quicker, therefore these hammerless revolvers are best for concealed carry.

Revolvers do not have a safety switch or button like you find on your semi-automatic pistols. Some revolvers will have safety features, but nothing you have to push to get the gun to fire. This is why some people favor revolvers for self-defense, because of the ease of use in a high-stress situation.

There are fewer parts on a revolver than a semi-automatic pistol. The differing parts are:

  • Cylinder—where the ammunition is loaded
  • Cylinder release—the button that releases the cylinder from the barrel
  • Hammer—the curved piece of metal on the back of the gun. You pull back on the hammer to get the gun ready to shoot
  • Ejector rod—the rod you push that releases the empty cases from the cylinder

If you are first-time revolver shooter, there are three things I would like to warn you about—the trigger pull, the barrel size, and the caliber. Revolvers have a longer trigger pull than semiautomatic pistols. This means that you need to apply more pressure to the trigger for it to engage. We measure trigger pull in pounds. A double-action trigger pull is longer than the single-action trigger pull. A typical trigger pull in double-action for a revolver is around 11 to 12 pounds. The typical trigger pull for single-action is three to five pounds.

To put this in perspective, your typical polymer-framed pistol will have about a 5.5-pound to six-pound consistent trigger pull. When shooting a revolver in double-action, which you most likely do, you will double the amount of pressure you must put on the trigger for the gun to shoot. Therefore it will seem harder to pull the trigger.

The relationship between barrel size and caliber will affect how bad the recoil on the revolver will be. A quick tip is that the shorter the barrel and the higher the caliber, the worse the gun will kick. Snub-nosed revolvers, those with two-inch and smaller barrels, look good and are perfect for concealing, but a .38 Special and higher calibers the more uncomfortable the gun is to shoot. For the first time revolver shooter, I recommend waiting to purchase a self-defense, carry revolver and trying a .22 Long Rifle or .22 Magnum first. That way you can get a feel for how revolvers work and shoot. Down the line, if a revolver is for you, then you can move to the next level. That’s what I did. I started out with a .22 Magnum S&W Model 51 with a three and a half-inch barrel and eventually graduated to an S&W .38 Bodyguard with a 1.9-inch barrel. The following is a list of suggested starter revolvers all under $400.

Charter Arms Pathfinder Target Model

Charter Arms Pathfinder Target Model Revolver
Charter Arms Pathfinder Target Model Revolver

The Charter Arms Pathfinder Target model revolver comes in either .22 Long Rifle or .22 Magnum. Both Charter Arms Pathfinder Target revolvers share features exclusive to Charter Arms such as their one-piece barrel, lug, and sight, the strong frame, and three-point cylinder lock-up which provide greater accuracy. The eight grooves in the button-rifled barrel enhances accuracy, as well. They each have the same specifications with a four-inch barrel, hold six rounds, have up-graded precision sights, and both weigh 18 ounces. The difference is the caliber of ammunition they shoot. As is typical for revolvers, the Charter Arms Pathfinder has about a 12-pound trigger pull in double-action and a smooth 5.6-pound trigger pull in single-action. The guns come with a full-sized black rubber grip with finger grooves for a tight, comfortable grip. Charter Arms revolvers are all 100 percent made in the United States.

Specifications and Features

  • Four-inch rifled stainless barrel
  • Eight grooves
  • Six-round capacity
  • Hammer block transfer bar safety
  • Three-point cylinder lock-up
  • Single-action, double-action
  • One-piece barrel, lug and sight
  • Fixed ramp front sight
  • Shrouded ejector rod
  • Black rubber grips
  • Stainless steel finish

Rossi Model 98

Rossi Model 98 Revolver
Rossi Model 98 Revolver

For the price, the Rossi model 98 offers some great upgrades you don’t normally find on a revolver. For one, the Rossi 98 has an adjustable rear sight and a fiber optic front sight, which gives you quicker target acquisition in low-light situations. Most revolvers have basic fixed steel sights. Instead of the typical six shots, the 98 holds eight. Taurus makes Rossi guns, so that is why this particular Rossi has an odd-looking grip. Taurus calls this rubber grip a “ribber grip.” The frame and cylinder is made of alloy steel. At 29 ounces and its four-inch barrel, this revolver will not kick at all.

Specifications and Features

  • .22 LR
  • Four-inch barrel
  • Eight-round capacity
  • Adjustable sights
  • DA/SA
  • Steel frame
  • Rubber grips
  • Weight: 29 oz
  • Blued

Taurus 941

Taurus 941 Revolver
Taurus 941 Revolver

Available in a variety of models, the Taurus 941 is a .22 Magnum rimfire revolver that offers accuracy up to 25 yards and will kill varmints up to 100 yards. This revolver is perfect for an affordable practice gun, plinker, and varminter. It comes in a two-inch, four-inch, and a five-inch model. I prefer the five-inch. The extra length of the barrel gives you a longer sight radius, meaning it is easier to aim and therefore, should make your shooting more accurate. The Taurus 941 with the five-inch barrel weighs in at 27.5 ounces. With its longer barrel length and heavier weight, the revolver balances well. With the full-sized black rubber grips, the 941 is extremely comfortable to shoot. The stainless steel, five-inch model offers an upgrade in sights. It has a fully adjustable rear sight and a ramp front sight with a high-visibility red insert. In single-action, the Taurus 941 measures around a three-pound trigger pull; however, the double-action trigger pull on the 941 is heavier than other revolvers. Sometimes the trigger just needs loosened up with a break-in period or dry firing snap caps at home can solve this tough trigger issue.

Specifications and Features

  • .22 Magnum
  • Five-inch barrel
  • 1:15″ twist with six grooves
  • Eight-round capacity
  • Transfer bar safety
  • Single/double-action
  • Black rubber grip
  • Matte stainless steel finish
  • Small steel frame
  • Fixed front and adjustable rear sights
  • 9.75″ overall length
  • 4.98″ tall
  • 1.346″ wide
  • 27.5 oz unloaded

Armscor M200 Revolver

Armscor M200 Revolver
Armscor M200 Revolver

If you insist on a higher caliber, the Armscor M200 revolver in .38 Special is our best deal. Selling for less than $200, the M200 is a no-frills, no-nonsense revolver. It holds four rounds of .38 Special, a caliber you can safely use in self-defense. The longer four-inch barrel makes target shooting tolerable with the bigger caliber. First introduced in 1987, Armscor designed the M200 after a famous Colt design. When I say the gun is no-frills, I mean it. It has a fixed front sight and no rear sight. The steel frame has a matte black finish and the grips are plastic. For a more comfortable grip, I recommend covering the factory grips with Hogue rubber grips. The trigger pull on the M200 is typical, 11 pounds in double-action and three and a half pounds in single-action. Armscor says that the M200 revolver can occasionally handle the hotter +P loads, but it is not recommended you use +P when practicing.

Specifications and Features

  • .38 Special
  • 4.02″ barrel
  • Six-round capacity
  • Matte black finish
  • Steel frame
  • Fluted cylinder
  • Single and double-action
  • Black combat-type plastic checkered grips
  • Fixed ramp front sight
  • Fixed wide square notch rear sight
  • Right hand 1 turn twist six groove
  • Floating firing pin
  • Transfer bar system safety
  • Wide finger radius trigger
  • 1.76 lbs.
  • 8.78″ overall length

Do you already own a revolver? Which revolver do you suggest for the first-timer? Tell us about it in the comment section.

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 (9)

  1. The Rock Island Armory M200 is a gem. It is a knock off
    of the late Colt Police Positive Special. By that I mean it has
    the firing pin within the frame and a coiled spring via the
    trigger. It does not have the rich bluing, the steel is not as
    great as a Colt, nor is the final fitting like a watch but it is
    at least 1/3 the price. I qualified as an armed security guard
    with this and it performed very nicely. The M200 is fast out of
    the nylon holster and is pleasant in double or single action.
    Some do not like the grip; i like them. I paid $285 for mine
    retail NIB.

    1. I have the same revolver. I paid less than $200, and although the grips have a nice shape, the plastic is cheap and I really don’t like the feel in my hand. However, it is an exact copy of a Colt D frame and I have several different styles of rubber Pachmayr grips for a Colt D frame. Fantastic CCW gun. Reliable and accurate. I used mine for my combat pistol class and many people with $1500-2000 semi autos made fun of it until they saw it in action. The instructors had everyone fire only 2-3 rounds per exercise so 15+ was irrelevant. Mine was more accurate and more reliable than some very expensive pieces. Order gun leather for a D frame or Diamondback (target version of the Colt with a 4″ barrel and adjustable sights) and you’re good to go!

  2. i agree the lcr is a good gun i just prefer the way a steel revolver feels more …. any ruger revolver is exelent and as i mentioned its a real chore to wear it out. i still love my smith but thier spendy and good for targets but my ruger is still what i like for hunting/defense especialy if high value and money are the target

  3. any ruger revolver single or double action. the revolvers listed do cost less but used rugers are very economical and i have never seen one wear out. the taurus and rossie revolvers are junk i would avoid them if a person wants to get a long life out of it. the ruger wont be a smith, colt, or a dan wesson (which i preffer cause i shoot alot) but its a reliable and rugged firearm and id take a rusty old ruger over a taurus or rossie anyday

    1. Will, The LCR, and LCRX are both excellent. They fire anywhere from .22 to .357 They also have a newer model with a 3 inch B. that is Nice as well. I am a huge Ruger fan and I would trust any of the pistols I have named with my life. Also, if you are looking for a larger Ruger pistol Look into the Ruger GP100 or 101

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