Is the Duty Carry Revolver Done?

Colt Python

It was a brisk Saturday morning. The North Texas winter was usually mild, but this year was different. Sheets of ice lay like patchwork over the ground and I had to brush the frost off my windshield before heading to the local range. I managed to sneak out of the house in the early morning before the wife handed me the usual honey-do list. I’m not sorry to say I’ve been avoiding it in favor of some quality range time.

Colt Python
Colt Python

I was meeting up with a law enforcement friend of mine for a day of shooting. It was hard to hide my excitement. Playing weekend hooky wasn’t my normal routine so it felt good to grab my guns and get out in the open. I pulled up to the range and my comrade had his guns out while he organized his ammo. He already put some holes in a paper target, which sat in the middle of the three-sided berm. His Colt Python had some steam coming off the barrel, this was no surprise to me since he bragged about that wheelgun on a regular basis.

As beautiful and well built as that weapon was, I noticed that he usually carried a Glock 19 when he was on duty, not his fancy Colt six shooter. A .357 magnum revolver was still on the approved duty pistol list carry, so I was curious about his choice. When I asked about why he carried a little 9mm instead of that intimidating Colt, he said he felt that it was simply obsolete.

Obsolete? I wasn’t sure what to think about that. With the modern semi-automatic pistols being so affordable and reliable, was he right in saying that his beloved Python was too old of a platform to be a viable duty weapon? I dove into the matter and came to a few conclusions, but no definite answers.


This is the largest strike for revolvers. Six rounds of ammunition just doesn’t seem to cut the mustard when you can just as easily carry 16. Some double action defensive revolvers carry five, and reloading a wheelgun in the middle of a gunfight can be cumbersome. Reloading a semi-automatic is just as fast as dropping the mag, throwing in a new one, and closing the slide. All this happens after you dump 16 rounds from the previous magazine to boot. Semi-automatics have a clear edge in this category, and but that is really no surprise.


A quality revolver is just about the most reliable handgun you can own. There really isn’t a lot to go wrong. For the most part, every time you pull the trigger, it will go bang. If by chance, you pull the trigger and it fails to fire, simply pull it again. There is no need for failure to feed drills. In the past, the edge in this category would squarely belong to the revolver, however, with proper duty ammunition, a modern quality semi-automatic is every bit as reliable as the best wheelgun. Sure, there are plenty of junky semi-autos out there that can’t get through a magazine without a stovepipe, but a suitable duty pistol, properly maintained and operated, will get the job done without any issues. In my option, this category would have to be a tie, due to the reputation of Glocks, M&Ps, M9s, and XDs. My Glock 19 has thousands of rounds through it and itnever jams, not even during that wonky break in period.

Killing Power

Another tie. Recent advancements in ammunition make the old revolver rounds just as deadly as the latest in .45 or 9mm. You can find mile long threads on every gun forum about .38 versus 9mm and .44 versus .45. The bottom line is a well-placed shot from any of these rounds does the trick, body armor not withstanding. A .357, like my friend’s Python has an outstanding reputation for killing power, as does all but the most anemic semi-auto calibers.

So are revolvers a still a viable option for duty carry? I would say yes. However, the allure of carrying more ammunition at the ready is too tempting an offer for most military or police officers. Carrying a revolver won’t mean you are outgunned, but at the range you might be snickered at by the young bucks with “them new fangled plastic autos.”

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 (10)

  1. The fact is, a person armed with a revolver is outgunned by someone with a good semi-auto and a high-capacity magazine, and possibly several extra magazines. New York City cops went to semi-autos in 1989 (if my memory serves me well), when a criminal killed a NYC police officer in a gunfight, when the officer emptied his revolver, and the criminal charged him, killing him with a Glock 9mm, I believe.

    But of course, use what you’re familiar with and can shoot well. I believe new shooters can shoot a semi-auto better than a revolver.

  2. A lot of armed security, including myself, carry wheelguns. Until recently, semi-automatics were not permitted for security or couriers in St. Louis. That said, the company for whom I work is beginning to phase out these old .38 Specials. It’s a shame too, I’m quite fond of my revolver.

  3. My favorite is still my S&W model 19 .357 Combat Magnum with 2 speedloaders of 125JHP. You have to account for each round and one well placed beats 3 misses. Look at the latest NYPD shooting, 9 innocents wounded.

  4. Not being confined by Professional Protocal as to which weapon I shall carry daily, I still carry an XD9 or S&W 9 most the time. But push come to shove, the gun I reach for is the Ruger Police Six in .357, which is a perfect companion to the ’94 Marlin in the GHB.

  5. I’d rank a revolver behind a good brand name semi-auto, but in front of a lot of other crappy ones. They aren’t as good, but they’re plenty good to still get the job done for the vast, vast majority of civilian shootings.

    There are very few situations where the difference between a semi-automatic and a revolver is going to matter, and in all of them you’re really going to be thinking “damn I wish I had my AR.”

  6. Firepower has to me at least proven not paramount. (check NYC headlines) Accuracy and
    training seem to be in order. How many times is anybody accosted by a large group of firearm wielding foes. Shoot what you are (or should be) aiming for and hit it with enough power to stop it. I get distressed with the new obsession with groups when practicing. When I was young a group used to be a bunch of guys who got together to hit what they were aiming at. Practice, practice ,practice in every environment and hit the damn bullseye. (or perp)

  7. I live in a small town, in a small county… less than 25,000 total population. I’m good friends with several Deputies. All of them, even though their main weapon is a .40 SW semi, bring a .357 Mag as a backup with them while on duty. Some strap a small frame to their calf. others keep it in the car. These guns are far from dead, at least in areas with low population/low crime.

  8. the revolver may be “obsolescent”, but it’s far from dead. i cut my teeth on an issue m1911a1, but over the years i’ve owned, and carried colt, s&w and webley revolvers. i still keep a model 10 smith in my gun locker, and it still goes out to the range.

  9. I live out in the Pacific Northwest. When I head out on a fishing trip, my Ruger Alaskan is still my go-to sidearm. Chambered in .44 magnum, I can load it hot for black bear and other big game or load it with .44 special rounds in town. In an environment that is muddy and constantly raining, a stainless steel wheel gun provides a lot of comfort.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit exceeded. Please click the reload button and complete the captcha once again.

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.