Guest Post: Commander Zero on Revolvers

Revolvers often find themselves taking a back seat when compared to modern autoloaders. Yet do revolvers have a place in the gun safe? Commander Zero addresses the role of the modern revolver in his post reproduced here.

From Commander Zero’s post:

Another one of those questions that pops up from time to time – do revolvers have any place in the grand scheme of things.

It’s just my opinion, but in a word: yes.

Right now someone, somewhere is hitting the ‘reply’ button getting ready to tell me how if revolvers are so damn good how come they haven’t been issued as standard military sidearms since WW2? (And, yes, I know revolvers were issued to pilots in Vietnam and other groups since then.)

Check that finger, mate. Let’s hash this out a bit.

The suitability of the revolver depends on what you are tasking it with. Parachuting into Magadishu to rescue shot-down pilots? Probably not the best choice. Fly fishing in Montana bear country? Good choice. See how the anticipated use can determine suitability?

Personally, I like revolvers. I usually shoot them better than autos. However, nine times out of ten I carry an auto. I try not to let my personal preferences trump good reasoning.

Revolvers have a lot going against them. If they break, replacement parts usually require the services of a gunsmith whereas most autos (esp. the newer ones) simply require a parts swapout. Firepower, in this case meaning rounds fired without reloading, easily beats the classic six-shooter. Reloads in an auto are, usually, faster than a revolver although some revolvers can be loaded mighty quick with a lot of practice.

Revolvers can be a bit more fragile than automatics…anything that hits the cylinder hard enough can spring the frame and damage the bolt. Only lately are we seeing revolvers with accessory rails or night sights as standard items. So, generally, there are some big drawbacks from a logistical and tactical standpoint to revolvers.

What advantages does the revolver have? Generally, the revolvers biggest advantage is based around ammunition. Revolvers can shoot more powerful ammunition with a broader selection of bullets. Revolvers can fire blanks, snakeshot, slow wadcutters, high velocity light bullets, heavy-for-their caliber bullets, or plastic bullets all out of the same loaded cyclinder with no effect on firearm function….something just about any automatic cannot do.

Not to freak out the math-phobic, but lets look at some numbers. We’ll limit our discussion to ‘practical’ guns and calibers. The .454 Casull may be a rhinostomper but most folks aren’t going to carry anything that big. The .50 AE may be awesome in a Desert Eagle but most folks aren’t going to carry one around as a daily gun.

In automatics the most powerful cartridge you can reasonably expect to come across and will fit in your average duty-size gun is the 10mm Auto. Great cartridge. Cartridges Of The World shows a 170 gr. JHP factory load from Norma as generating around 680 ft/lb of energy. That’s pretty darn impressive. On the other hand, the same reference shows the .44 Magnum as generating nothing below that with jacketed factory loads. Or, put another way, every .44 Mag jacketed bullet load listed beats the 10mm.

Not really a fair comparison because both cartridges are, by anyones definition, a bit stompy in terms of recoil. So lets take a step back and go with a little more controllable cartridge choices and look at some numbers. Dinosaurs ‘round the world tout the .45 ACP as a death ray so lets look at the numbers – a +P 185 gr. JHP generates around 534 ft/lb..very impressive. (Anything over 500 ft/lb is pretty darn good) A .357 Magnum 125 gr. JHP beats it by about 50 ft/lb. A niggling difference on the terminal end of things, Im sure.

For personal defense against things with language skills, its an even mix…revolver ballistics or auto ballistics will perform nearly identically for the most common caliber in those two firearms styles. For personal defense against things with claws and teeth, well the revolver has an advantage there in terms of energy that’s pretty hard to argue with.

So we’ve argued that autos are better than revolvers in terms of maintenance (repairs and parts replacement) , and that for personal defense they are about even with proper caliber selection, so that clinches it right? Meh….theres other factors.

A small revolver conceals nicely and can be fired in cramped spaces like a coat pocket. (You can try it but be aware the lining of your coat may catch fire.) Revolvers can be loaded with reduced-charge ammo for new shooters or people who have problems handling more powerful cartridges or cant seem to get past limp-wristing their autos. Looking at revolvers from a post-apocalyptic Mad Max perspective theres some advantages in not having to chase your brass around, be able to cast bullets from scavenged lead, and use homemade black powder if you had to. (Admittedly, a very unlikely scenario but you never know.) Primers, of course, would be a challenge although some folks have had success reloading their own primers with various ‘common household materials.

Succinctly, yes there is a place for the revolver in preparedness. They are excellent for secondary or tertiary levels of redundancy. Police trade-in .38 and .357 revolvers can still be had for less than the price of an automatic and they are less finicky about their cheap reloaded ammo than most autos.

Years ago when I could buy used Smith & Wesson revolvers for less than $200 each I bought as many as I could and tucked them away in the safe. They are the closest thing I have to a ‘disposable’ handgun. While Im loathe to loan out one of the stockpiled Glocks I don’t have a problem loaning out one of the revolvers.

In calibers, I prefer the .357. Its comfortable to shoot, guns are plentiful, the commonality of .38 and .357 ammunition plays into my favor, ballistics are good for my anticipated uses, and the components are cheap and plentiful. Obviously, .38 Special ammo can be shot out of any .357 but not vice versa. Despite this, I still keep a few .38 Special guns on hand mostly for their cheap utility and convenience. Usually any gun you like in .38 is available in .357 also and that would be the way to go in order to preserve the advantage of ammo interchangeability.

My personal recommendation are open to debate, but here’s what I’d go with, in order of preference: Ruger, S&W, Taurus, Colt. I’m actually a Smith & Wesson fan but the Ruger is simply a more robust and durable gun than most revolvers out there. They are the Ak-47 of revolvers in terms of robustness. Their GP100 series and the older Security-, Speed- and Police-Six are good solid guns. When I carry around a .357 I usually carry a Smith Model 28 but if its time to run out the door with a backpack and rifle I’ll take the Ruger.

Smith and Wessons are good guns, well made and have a great history. I like them a lot. The nice thing about the Smiths is that they made .357 revolvers on the large .44-frame guns. These guns hold up much better to steady diets of .357 loads than some of the smaller framed guns. But, even then, I still feel like the Ruger is more durable. Taurus makes a great selection of revolvers and theyre quite reasonably priced. Quality is good although once in a while a lemon gets through..however, I hear theyre pretty good on warranty stuff. Taurus probably has the most affordable .38 Specials out there. Colt used to make great revolvers but they’ve fallen so far off the radar in this department that theres almost no point in even considering them. Their older guns used lockwork that was virtually unchanged from the Victorian era and their more modern guns are difficult to find, overpriced and of mixed quality.

Steer clear of things like Llama, RG, Rohm, Astra, and any other company that youre not familiar with. Many of these cheap revolvers are mediocre at best and dangerous at worst. I’ve encountered more than a few that spit lead out the sides of cylinder gap from bad timing. For the price of one of those nightmares you can find a used Smith on GunBroker.

Got the money in hand and have no problem paying once for a gun that will last a lifetime? Here’s your list: Ruger Stainless GP100 (Or an SP101 if you want the snubby), extra front sight inserts, extra set of grips if you prefer Pachmyers, quality holster from Galco, Bianchi or DeSantis, a half dozen speedloaders and pouches (Safariland, HKS), SPeedStrip-type loader, BoreSnake, cleaning kit, as much ammo as you can afford, disassembly manual and you’d pretty much be set to go. If you want to take it to the next level of ‘ready for anything’ get a set of carbide reloading dies, a case of primers (5,000), an 8# keg of powder, a bullet mould and sizer, and a buncha brass.

If you’re a fan of the .44 (or .45) cartridges, by all means go with that. Both cartridges are ballistically superior to the .357 and will serve quite nicely. I go with the .357 mostly for logistical reasons regarding ammo availability and expense, but that’s just me. The one caliber I’d shy away from is the .41 Magnum. It’s a great cartridge ballistically but its too much of an oddball for easy feeding. Ammo selection isn’t nearly as broad, and components are not as plentiful as for the .357. 44 and .45.

Commander Zero makes his home in Montana with his wife where he is an active member in the preparedness community. You can visit his blog at

What are your thoughts on revolvers? You pro? Con? Somewhere in between? Share your thoughts in the comments 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 (2)

  1. This is all very good advice. My mother, 78 years old, with arthritic hands cannot cycle the slides of automatics larger than .22. She discovered in her gun shopping that she can easily cycle single action Rugers, plus she loves the “Cowboy” look of single actions. She bought a .45 convertible and soon discovered that other shooters leave behind their .45 Auto brass. She now has almost 1000 round of .45 Auto loaded out of free brass from the range she uses. She lives in Iowa, where concealed carry may soon become a reality for her. We are thinking that a short barreled Vaquero may be a good purchase for her to carry when she is away from home.

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