Competitive Shooting

Throwback Thursday: How to Shoot a Revolver — Efficiently

huge ringed fireball after a revolver was shot using a 125-grain .3357 magnum from a short barrel revolver

I grew up in homes without self-loading firearms of multiple types. My grandfather owned Smith and Wesson revolvers, although he would not ‘flip for the difference’ between Smith and Wesson and Colt. There was a chip out of the wall of his country store where someone was unloading one of those ‘damn automatics.’ Needless to say, at the time he was not a fan.

Well, a few years into police work I saw pock marks in walls, inside an elevator, and one locker door wrecked. All by .38 revolvers… Sure, I learned to set points in distributors, change oil, and drive a three-speed on the column. I am not that ancient. In 1978, my father was driving a 1947 Chevy work truck. I learned how to take the top cap off a transmission and set gears when they hung up. And I also learned to use a revolver well.

thumb wrapped around the hand showing an improper shooting grip
Don’t wrap the thumb around the support hand. This will make for real trouble when you fire automatic pistols. Thumbs forward is stronger.

Often, I still carry a revolver — every day in fact. My backup and ‘never-without’ handgun is an Airweight .38 Special. It may be on the ankle or in the back pocket, but it is always there. When hiking, or taking leisurely walks where man doesn’t tread often, I carry some type of .357 Magnum revolver. I don’t feel disadvantaged.

Shooting a Revolver

The revolver isn’t an ‘also ran.’ It has certain advantages that may make it the top choice for personal defense. However, you must learn to run it. Firing the piece is easy — open the cylinder, load it, close the cylinder, and press the trigger. However, making the bullet hit the target is what counts.

Shooting a revolver is most often done wrong. Folks try to crank back the double-action trigger and keep the sights aligned at the same time. Sure, that is basically what you do. The biggest error can be found in how they use the sights. The front sight is the primary focus or point of concentration. Keep the front sight on target and in focus. There will be some wobble — keep the sight lined up as you press the trigger straight to the rear. You must learn the trigger action thoroughly by dry firing the revolver extensively.

Bob Campbell shooting a revolver showing a proper shooting grip
This is a good firing grip for revolvers.

Work the action and keep the front sight lined up properly. When you get to the range for live fire, you will have the trigger action mastered. Then, all you will have to think about is keeping the front sight on target.

The proper way to operate the trigger is to press the trigger straight to the rear without disturbing the sights. Press, the revolver fires, and the muzzle then rises. As the muzzle rises, you allow the trigger to move forward and reset. Press it again and get another hit. Do what you have done in dry fire. Focus on the front sight. The firing grip must be strong and stable. Wrap the support hand around the firing hand with the thumbs forward and locked for support.

revolver cylinder loaded using a moon clip
If you are concerned with speed loads, a moon clipped revolver is superbly fast.

Don’t lock the support hand’s thumb around the back of the firing hand thumb. That isn’t nearly as stable as two thumbs locked and forward. Get a firm lock on the revolver. Rock the action smoothly, but quickly, and keep the front sight lined up on the target. Don’t hesitate too long on the shot, or you may get muscle tremor. Line up and press the trigger. Dry fire until you get this squared away. Then, live fire using the same technique. Fire smoothly and deliberately. Speed up as you gain skill.

Loaded Lyman speedloader
The Lyman speedloader is very rugged and the most modern of speedloaders.

There are differences in the action of quality revolvers. Taurus and Smith & Wesson are similar. Colt stands on its own and is most likely to be mis-handled. Charter Arms may not be as smooth as some, but the locktime is fast and short. Ruger is simply super tough and may be mastered with practice.

Draw Speed and Reloads

Presenting the revolver from concealed carry isn’t any more difficult than with a self-loading handgun. In fact, it may be a little easier. The revolver handle is offset from the body while the automatic lies flat against the body. Draw with the elbow to the rear and come from under the handgun, scooping the revolver upward and out of the holster.

As the revolver is brought on target, the support hands meet, and the handgun is driven toward the target. At very short range, you may fire with one hand — even fire below eye level if the threat is at intimate range. An advantage of the revolver is that it may be pressed into the adversary’s body and fired repeatably. A self-loading pistol isn’t built for that.

Another advantage of the revolver, that isn’t appreciated by most shooters, is that the revolver barrel may be pressed against the barricade as you fire. You may fire around cover with the barrel pressed against a wall. Sure, the barrel will recoil away from the wall, so ensure that you keep a firm grip. Properly practiced and understood, this technique makes for very accurate aimed fire. This is using one advantage of the revolver. Since the revolver isn’t dependent on the ammunition to cycle the action, you may use low-power ammunition for training. This is important as you begin.

The correct grip on a speedloader before being inserted into a revolver
Be certain to wrap the fingers around the tops of the cartridges as you guide them into the revolver’s chambers.

For defense use, among the best balanced, all-around revolver cartridges is the .38 Special +P. The .357 Magnum is a formidable cartridge with an enviable reputation. I recommend a handgun of at least 35 ounces for use with the magnum cartridge.  

When you have fired and need to reload, hopefully you have hit your threat and do not need to reload —time is important. Speed is less important than smoothness. Don’t fumble and drop the gun, load, or speedloader. First, open the cylinder with your firing-hand thumb, and be certain that the muzzle is pointed upward, and the ejector rod is firmly slapped to eject spent cartridges. Unfired cartridges will also be ejected.

The firing hand transfers the revolver to the weak hand. Alternately, while the revolver is still in the firing hand, the weak hand palm rides over the trigger guard, and the fingers press the cylinder open, while the thumb strikes the ejector rod. This ejects the cartridges in the cylinder.

Using a speedloader to load a revolver
Speedloading requires practice. Don’t neglect this skill.

The strong hand draws a speedloader from the strong-side carrier, as the weak hand orients the muzzle of the revolver toward the ground. It is important that the speedloader isn’t grasped by the release/locking knob as novices often do. The fingers are placed near the cartridge nose as the cartridges are guided into the chambers. When using a HKS or Lyman, the knob or release is twisted. With the Safariland and Speebeez, it is simply pressed. Don’t wiggle the speed load just drop it. Plan on hitting the target and not needing to reload. Just the same, spend some time learning to speed load.

Revolvers are simple to use, reliable, efficient, powerful, and accurate. The man or woman behind the sights is most important. Train hard and smart to take advantage of the revolver’s strengths.

Are you a fan of shooting revolvers? What is your favorite revolver and caliber for self-defense? Do you have shooting tip for revolvers? Share your answers in the Comment section.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August of 2022. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

  • Smith and Wesson 640 with the cylinder open
  • thumb wrapped around the hand showing an improper shooting grip
  • Loaded Lyman speedloader
  • cup and saucer grip while shooting a revolver
  • Stainless-steel revolver with the cylinder open
  • Using a speedloader to load a revolver
  • Bob Campbell shooting a revolver showing a proper shooting grip
  • The correct grip on a speedloader before being inserted into a revolver
  • revolver cylinder loaded using a moon clip
  • huge ringed fireball after a revolver was shot using a 125-grain .3357 magnum from a short barrel revolver
  • Bob Campbell shooting a short barrel revolver through recoil
  • firing a revolver from the hip position
  • Bob Campbell shooting a revolver from a braced position using his arms
  • Bob Campbell shooting a revolver that is braced against a wall

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 (36)

  1. Although my wife qualified for her handgun license with a 1911 in .45, it became apparent, as she got older, that her hand strength wasn’t up to racking a slide on a semi. Went to find her a new carry gun. Since she’s a leftie, she got a S&W Southpaw ( 2 inch barrel) in .38. Difference is the cylinder swings to the right. It’s very accurate and she shoots it well. I have and sometimes carry a Charter Arms 2 inch .38. Also a very accurate pistol.

  2. Many years ago when a Police Officer, my back-up (a S&W model 60 .38 revolver) saved my bacon during an extended shootout, after my Colt .45 1911 (and 12 gauge 870 Remington shootgun) ran dry. Only had to use my back-up that one time, but I was so glad I had it. These days my EDC is a Kimber revolver model K6s (hammerless, double-action only) .357 magnum, and carry a couple of speedstrips with it. A great revolver! All fit and carry very nicely in my cargo pants. BTW: Years ago the academy taught how to shoot a revovler double-action.

  3. I’m a huge revolver fan. I do own other types but prefer the revolver. My S&W 642. I have it loaded with 148 gran hollow base wadcutters, or Cowboy Action Shooting loads. Easy to control, I spent a long time trying to figure out why I preferred revolvers, I finally know the answer, LAZINESS!!! I hate chasing auto brass across the outdoor range I shoot at!!! I don’t shoot indoors. Ever tried to find brass in a snowbank?????

  4. Thank-you for the helpful column. I love my revolvers. The only revolver I ever had that I didn’t like was the S&W 642. It was such an unpleasant shooting experience for me that I sold it after one visit to the range.

  5. I have carried and shot a wide variety of handguns in the military and civilian life. While I might carry a 1911 in 45 ACP, or a Glock 17, or Berretta 92F in 9mm, I always gravitate back to my 357 magnums and 38 specials. Currently, I carry my S&W 586 with a 4 inch barrel and sometimes my Model 19 with a 2 inch barrel; I carry a J-frame 38 as a back up, models 37, Airlite Ti, 640, and 642. I agree with the points made in your article and was taught to shoot double action only while in the Police Academy in 1986, which is a blessing. One important skill is the ability to load a single cartridge in the ready position to fire (Ruger and Smith & Wesson at 1 o’clock position and Colt at the 11 o’clock position), I don’t know for other brands. As an aside, I think the S&W Model 10 (38 spl) is one of the best handguns to learn to shoot a revolver well, the balance, accuracy, pointability, are unmatched.

  6. Smith & Wesson double action only M642 Airweight Centennial without the despicable Hillary Hole trigger lock and with a Performance Center trigger action job yielding a very smooth 8-pound double action trigger. Also 7-round speed strips loaded 2+2+1 for ease of use and carrying +P full wadcutters. Wearing Crimson Trace LG305 laser grips because the microscopic fixed sights are essentially useless and the LG305 grips are long enough to wrap three fingers around the butt.

  7. I too am a huge fan of revolvers. I regularly carry a Smith &Wesson Mod 66 21/2 inch combat magnum. It’s filled with Plus P. And if it needs to be reloaded there are two speed loaders in my pocket. If you want to master pistol craft, learn how to use a double action revolver well. Then you have a true base of knowledge and can adapt to any other handgun. You’ll be better off for it.
    PS. I’ve been know to carry a 44 special too. Just sayin’.

  8. I enjoy my two .357 Colt Trooper IIIs. They are very dependable with 6 3/8 barrels. I prefer 158gr Remington ammo to hunt ; and 125 gr hollow points for defense. I also like shooting my Ruger Alaskan .44, 2 1/2″ barrel with full loads. My S&W model 29-10, 4″ is reserved for .44 Special loads. I started with a FIE 4″ 38special and sold it to a friend to upgrade to the Colts.

  9. I shoot and carry my revolvers more than my semis. Usually a S&W 360 PD in .357 with 38+p ammo. Maybe I’m just old school (and I’m not that old….47) but I love the look and simplicity of a revolver. I have nice semis as well but when I hunt, my Taurus 66 4in bbl with 180gr Buffalo Bore suits me just fine.

  10. I keep a .22 Wrangler for training new shooters, but I find it fun and accurate as well. I have LCR snubbies in both .22 & .357/38SP and like a smooth stroke of the trigger in double action. Rounding out the 357s is a GP100 4″ and a Uberti SAA. Both are impressively accurate. The weight and balance of the SAA gives real appreciation for those who can rapid fire with one hand. In the old Western movies those shooting from horseback often point the barrel up, then pivot down as they shoot. I always thought this was odd, but pointing up makes it balance more secure to reach and cock the hammer of the large pistol without dropping the gun. (Can’t practice that on our range, as the concrete ceiling means “up” is not a safe direction.)

  11. I’m all in on revolvers to me it’s the safest way to go never jams easy to manage easy to re load I have 5 revolvers and my family is aware of there locations and are very comfortable using them the automatic. Is a gun that on any given time can jam up So for me and family we feel best with the revolver in a battle a jammed revolver can be deadly no matter how fast you can fix the problem no thanks revolver all day

    Very best. Louis

  12. I’m all in on revolvers to me it’s the safest way to go never jams easy to manage easy to re load I have 5 revolvers and my family is aware of there locations and are very comfortable using them the automatic. Is a gun that on any given time can jam up So for me and family we feel best with the revolver in a battle a jammed revolver can be deadly no matter how fast you can fix the problem no thanks revolver all day

    Very best. Louis perry

  13. I only have one revolver, a Ruger S.P.101 with a 3″ barrel chambered for the Federal 327 magnum. Very smooth action and fun to shoot. The six chambers also take .32, .32 long and 32 H&R magnum (all a bit easier on the hand than the 327 mag), but that 327 is one hot little round.

  14. Last year had the opportunity to acquire one of my “bucket list guns” a Jerry Miculek 625 . Decades of experience with revolvers both on and off duty.An N frame Smith may not be everyones choice for a carry gun, but in winter time it rides comfortably in a shoulder holster and shoots like a dream, every bit as accurate as my 1911’s and a head turner at the range (replaced the JM grips with Hogue walnut) its as beautiful as it is effective. “Big Iron” found its forever home

  15. Have carried an S & W Chiefs Special for over 50 years. Also have Walther PPK 380, Berretta 92FS. have carried the PPK at times but really don’t like a round in the chamber. The spring on the PPK is really stiff and at times of stress can be difficult to actuate as regards loading that first round. No jamming, no accidental firing, I think I’ll stick with my S&W 38 Special revolver. I am not a pro and I don’t shoot frequently. I just need reliable security for that off-hand incident. If I need more than 5 rounds, I am probably dead.

  16. Have a wide variety of revolvers: .multiple 357 Rugers, .22 Taurus, Heritage and Charter. My 6.5″ Ruger Blackhawk has the convertible 9mm Luger cylinder allowing the use of shot shells, 38’s, .357’s and 9mm all with one gun. Very accurate with all ammo, including the 9mm. The 9mm cylinder certainly cuts down on ammo costs. Also just got the Taurus Judge with 2.5″ chambers/3″ barrel stainless ultra lite. Hard to believe that this Judge and my Taurus 942 3″ .22 weigh the same empty. Have a bunch o Rugers semi autos in .22, .380 ACP & 9mm Luger; everything has it’s place.

  17. I recently purchased a Taurus 856 Defender. I do not have a long history of firing a revolver so I truly appreciate the advice in the article. Time to practice. Especially the speed loading. I was pretty clumsy at the range the first couple of times.

  18. The wheel gun is here to stay. My first duty weapon was a beautiful Security Six .357. Still have that one and many other makes. Growing up and even today, I like to carry a Colt SAA. I don’t feel at a disadvantage and actually pity the person that may happen to be on the receiving end. The article is correct in the fact that, if you’re not really familiar and accomplished with a wheel gun, it take some significant dry fire exercises to master the long double action. I can, and do carry anything I want. A revolver is a part of that equation at least 50% of the time.

  19. When I carry a revolver it is my Taurus 85 stainless but my favorite is my Ruger Security Six w/4in bbl. the ruger is a tack driver or use to be before I gained 78 yrs of experience. As my age increases the gun accuracy decreases. ??

  20. I started my state LE career with the dept. issued S&W 686. 4″ bbl, factory Hogue rubber, with .38spl +P. Fantastic revolver. 6 shot cylinder with 2 speedloaders… took two reload sessions to get off 18 rounds. Haha, but it worked just fine. Then when we began to transition to the brand new M&P .40 in 2005/6… I tried to purchase my issued 686 but they weren’t having any of that. As an instructor, RSO, and requal officer I saw more “accidents” on the range with the new M&Ps than with the revolvers.

  21. My first exposure to revolvers was a S&W model 15 4″ as a duty weapon in the USAF. I progressed to a Model 19 after separating. I currently have a 4″ model 66, a model 638, and a 3″ m9del 65 with heavy barrel. The latter has become my favorite carry weapon. An action overhaul has resulted in the smoothest trigger in any of my revolvers, including my Colt Python. It is extremely accurate and robust.

  22. I agree with the author revolvers are solid reliable and accurate when trained with. I started my career in Law Enforcement in 1989 and started out with S&W model 10 revolvers in 38 special reloading with speed strips then speed loaders. Then agencies made the transition to the wonder nines. Carried Berettas Glocks and 1911s over the years I never carried anything with Moon clips would love to have a 4 inch S&W 625 45acp. In reality the revolver is faster to shoot shot to shot because an entire step is passed over. With a semi automatic it must eject and strip off a new round a revolver doesn’t eject between shots. I recommend that everyone watch Jerry Miculec and his double action speed shooting records all with S&W revolvers. I currently own two handguns a 357 revolver and a 22. To add to the authors loading of revolvers for concealed carry don’t over look speed strips they lay flat in a pocket and with practice can load almost as fast as speed loaders.

  23. My favorite revolver is a 1960s H&R 949 featuring 9 shots of .22 in either single or double action. It was my Dad’s and is now my son’s. I liked it so much that I bought a second one from a pawn shop. A great gun for range plinking and teaching. It was the first firearm I shot and the first firearm my son shot.

    I keep a Ruger GP 100 4″ barrel six shot .357 mag Match Champion loaded with Hornady self defense rounds beside my easy chair in case the bad guys get intrusive. I hope I never hear what it sounds like to shoot a .357 mag indoors with no hearing protection.

    Being a backslider, I also keep a Sig P365 in a pocket holster beside my easy chair. Convenient 9mm pocket protection against 2 or 4 legged coyotes when my bride and I walk the dogs at twilight. I put a red laser on it for easy target acquisition.

  24. I carried a 38/357 revolver for 30 years. With proper training and practice revolvers are a reliable resource for defensive use.

  25. Although my edc is a Ruger security-9, for horseback riding, hunting in unfamiliar territory, there’s nothing like having my ruger redhawk 5.5″ chambered in 44 magnum, especially in Ferrell hog territory, it is an absolute beast.!!… Love my ruger’s, just solid reliability, at a decent price point… No bling, just bang.!!

  26. Stacey Hughes

    Colt is very very smooth, easy to use well. But on the other hand it demands a proper reset. The Colt spring powers both the hammer and reset, SW and Ruger have separate reset springs. It must b mastered properly or you may tie it up

    Thanks for reading

  27. Great article! I carry a TRP and or a Micro 9. But my first was a nickel S&W 19-4, then a 686, then a nickel 19-5. I absolutely Love my wheelies!

  28. My favorite revolver is the super redhawk Ruger Alaskan 2 1/2” in 44 magnum. I like that I can also fire .44 Specials. My next favorite is the Colt Trooper lll in .357 magnum with 6 3/8” barrel. Again, it is flexible in that you can fire .357 or .38 Specials. Both very accurate revolvers.

  29. I own a Smith and Wesson 686, not a carry weapon but tack driver, if something “Hit the Fan” that’s the one I’m grabbing. 38 plus P Hollow points😁

  30. I like the Ruger Speed-six in 357 magnum, 2 point something inch barrel. I daily carried for years and never felt like I might need more gun.

  31. Similarly, I grew up with revolvers too. LOVE them to this day! I’d only owned Smith and colt, period. I’m a bit of a gun snob. I reduced my revolver use to two. Smith, model 1989, 625-2. 4″ inches of pure hell in 45 auto rim or acp with moon clips. My ever day carry is the Kimber K6s, in 357/38+p. I told you, gun snob!
    I’m won’t try to add any advise as you hit the nail on the head!
    But what I will comment on is the absolute absurdity of thinking that 6 shots is not enough. That you need double stack, 18+ 1? Seriously? You simply are either untrained or, you are continually in places no one should go. Other than war, why?

  32. My favorite ammo is 9mm although my only 9mm revolver is Charter Arms is hand load only. I also like .45LC but at 77 years I have a problem holding the revolver steady. Used to do Cowboy Shooting.

  33. I prefer a revolver for my protection. I’ve never had a revolver jamb or had the magazine drop out because it wasn’t locked in.

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