The Revolver in the 21st Century

Scott Wagner holding a revolver for home defense.

Contrary to what you may see in a lot of the popular firearms media these days, the revolver as a self-defense tool is not dead. In fact, there are quite a few options available for those seeking a revolver for home defense, concealed carry, or recreational shooting. But why would you choose a revolver when there are so many semi-automatic pistols available?

The first handguns I used when learning to shoot were revolvers. The first gun was my dad’s—who inherited it from my grandpa. It was a blued steel, six-shot .22 LR Smith and Wesson .22/32 Kit Gun with a four-inch barrel. This compact J-frame .22 LR revolver is still available today in two different iterations—the AirLite Model 317 Kitgun with aluminum alloy frame and cylinder and the all stainless steel Model 63. Both have eight-shot cylinders. The Kit Gun was just right for learning to shoot at age 14 since the small-frame wood grips fit my hands just right.

Scott Wagner shooting a revolver outdoors
A two-handed grip is great for the range, but seldom will you get that opportunity in a confrontation.

The second revolver I shot was a major step up. A friend of our family—who was a serious firearms enthusiast—took me, my brother and dad to the shooting range to shoot some of his guns. I was probably 15 at the time. I don’t remember what other guns we shot, but I do remember shooting his relatively new Ruger Blackhawk single-action revolver in .41 Magnum. We fired the reduced-power police loading, so recoil was tolerable. From then on, I was hooked on revolvers.

Throughout my 36-year law enforcement career, I often carried revolvers on duty—Colt Agent, Smith and Wesson Model 19, Model 10, the Model 65 and Model 686— before being required to carry a semi-automatic pistol. However, I never gave up on the revolver for off-duty concealed carry or backup, and still carry one nearly every day. I tell you all this to explain my bias in favor of the revolver for concealed carry or home defense. But it’s more than familiarity that drives my preference for revolvers.

The 21st Century revolver has a lot going for it. Let’s start with the foundational advantages it has over semi-automatic pistols, and then discuss the modern improvements which increase those advantages even further.

First and foremost, the double-action revolver is pretty hard to screw up as long as it is reasonably maintained. Its reliability in undeniable. The old advertising slogan “six for sure” is no joke. It is easy to know if your revolver is loaded simply by looking at the side of the gun for the gap between the rear of the cylinder and the frame for the cartridge rims. Unless you are very careless, you likely will not unknowingly face someone with an unloaded gun. This characteristic of the revolver also works in reverse—there should be no reason that you accidently fired a revolver because you didn’t know it was loaded!

Speaking of accidental discharges, there is also little excuse for having one with a DA revolver due to the 10-12 pound trigger pull, which also acts as the primary safety for the gun. It would be extremely difficult to accidentally catch and pull the trigger of a DA revolver. The same thing can’t be said of modern trigger-safety pistols.

Unlike semi-automatic pistols, revolvers are not particular about the cartridges that are loaded into the cylinder—as long as the caliber is correct. Anything from flat wadcutters to polymer tipped hollowpoint bullets will run—and the .357 Magnum revolver is the most versatile defensive revolver of all, because it can fire both .357 Magnum and .38 Special cartridges.

The revolver has advantages over the automatic when it comes to close quarter combat. The revolver is not as sensitive to being fired from odd (read that “any”) angles, nor will it jam from being fired with an unlocked wrist. In CQB, there is a very high probability that you will not be able to fire from the good two-hand firing position you practice with at the range.

Scott Wagner holding a revolver for home defense.
The revolver has many advantages over the semi-automatic for home defense.

Perhaps the most important CQB advantage of the revolver over the semi-automatic pistol is in the area of contact shots, i.e., when the muzzle of the handgun is actually pressed against the body of the attacker because the fight has become a hand-to-hand affair. Pressing the muzzle of an autoloader against the body of an attacker is likely to result in the slide being moved into an “out of battery” state, meaning that it won’t fire and is likely jammed. Not good. The revolver barrel is fixed and does not move, which also makes it more intrinsically accurate than the average semi-auto.

The revolver has come a long way in the 21st Century. Improvements include the availability of new lighter weight alloy frames that can resist the pounding of .357 or even .44 Magnum rounds, rust resistant coatings that reduce maintenance compared to the old, blue steel models, increased cylinder capacity due to improved metallurgy, the use of weight saving polymer in some revolver frames, improved sighting systems that use tritium, light gathering pipes or lasers, and multiple styles of reloading that make it easier to make up for limited cylinder capacity. All these improvements combined with a myriad of holster and carrying systems from pocket to shoulder make the modern revolver ready for modern combat.

Reloading a revolver can be much faster than one imagines when using speedloaders—either the cylindrical type or inline strip type loaders—with a bit of practice. The Smith and Wesson Performance Center 686 offers a third reloading option in the form of the full moon clip. The cylinder of this particular .357 holds seven rounds and is relieved to also allow the use of full moon clips, which drops all seven rounds into the cylinder with one motion, and ejects them in the same fashion. This is the fastest reload of all. Keep in mind too that the days of high-cap concealed carry handguns are waning. Single stack autos with magazine capacities of 6 or 7 rounds are all the rage. Single stack autos have virtually no advantage over revolvers in terms of ammo capacity.

When you search for a concealed carry or home defense gun, don’t overlook the revolver. More than adequate power and controllability, rock solid reliability, and excellent accuracy continue to be the hallmark of this weapon system. The modern double-action revolver has been around since the turn of the previous century. I expect it to be around for the turn of the next one.

What model was the first revolver you ever fired? Do you carry or rely on one now for self-defense? Share your revolver story 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 (67)

  1. Started as an LEO with a S&W mdl 64 in uniform in 1975. Moved up to a S&W mdl 19 a couple of years later. Once I was assigned to plain clothes, I carried a Colt Officer’s ACP in .45 but always had a Chiefs Special as a backup.

    Now in civilian life, my J Frame is always in my pocket.

  2. My first revolver was a Ruger SP100. I’ve added S&W 686+ and a S&W 629 since then. They make great companions to my Henry rifles and are more accurate than my polymer guns because of the extra weight and longer barrels.

  3. Carried a SW Chief’s Special as a Duty weapon and Off Duty weapon. 5 in the gun, 5 on the belt for a total of 10 for my Duty load. In Uniform SW Model 10 which I thought was a great gun. A little heavy for off-duty carry so hence the J frame for that purpose. But the Duty load was18 rounds. Dump pouches until the advent of strips and speed loaders. Unfortunately LEOSA rules in my very less than friendly carry state makes me carry one or the other semi or auto but not both.

  4. Blow-back or locked breech makes no difference. Any relatively modern semi-auto has a built-in safety to prevent the gun from firing if it is out of battery so that the high pressure gasses will not blow out of the side of the brass case of the round when it fires.

    1. You missed his point. Pressure against the muzzle on a 22 with a fixed barl as in his examples will NOT take the gun out of battery leaving it with the same advantage as a revolver. Your statement is actually correct but it did not address his question correctly. Any modern gun should not fire out of battery. I do remember the Kaboom problem some early Glocks had however. Trapper

  5. I understand what you are saying regarding a semi-auto not firing when the muzzle is pressed against the miscreant and preventing the slide from freely moving. My question regards a blowback type action in a semi-auto handgun (i.e.: Ruger Standard – Mark IV and the Browning in blowback configuration, to name two). It seems to me that this type of setup shouldn’t suffer from that issue. Granted, they are only .22 caliber, but the point remains.

    1. You are absolutely correct the type of 22 auto that has a fixed barrel and only the bolt blows back when firing would not be affected by pressure on the muzzle. However there are several styles of action and for this to be true the barrel must be fixed
      To further explain – if the entire slide moves rearward on pressure contact then it moves the gun out of battery and it will not fire. Many of the really fine 22 autos have fixed barrels Trapper

  6. I have carried the Ruger LCR 357 with 38 special along with two speed loaders with a concealment vest. Also I have started carrying the Charter Arms Bull Dog Boomer in 44 Special. Also with two speed loaders. Both revolvers have Crimson Trace laser grips

  7. First firearm fired was a .22 LR semiauto rifle. Second was my DAd’s WW2 1911 .45 acp. First revolver fired was a S&W Mod 15 as a Security Policeman in USAF..My first firearm I bought was a S&W mod 10, super accurate. now, I have several revolvers and semiauto pistols ranging in caliber from .22LR to .45acp. I carried a LCR for a while, but now carry a semi auto compact 9mm. I love them all.

  8. First firearm fired was a .22 LR semiauto rifle. Second was my DAd’s WW2 1911 .45 acp. First revolver was a S&W Mod 15 as a Security Policeman in, I have seversl revolvers and semisuto pistols ranging in caliber from .22LR to .45acp. I love them all.

  9. First firearm was a 12 ga. double that I got by trading a compressor to an old redneck when I was a teenager. The first revolver I shot was a Ruger Bearcat owned by a friend. Today, my normal carry gun is a stainless steel Charter Arms Bulldog. Yes, I could carry my customized Glock 23 or my 1911 in .45 ACP. But, I too have a fondness for the “wheel guns.”

  10. Although I only carry semi-automatics, I believe that a revolver is a good weapon to keep at home for self defense. If six shots from a 38 spec. or larger have not stopped the intruder, you’re probably already dead or at least beaten up and disarmed.

  11. my first handgun was a ruger single six 22. I bought it in newport rl. I was stationed there in the navy in 1963. I was only 19 so the gun store could not give it to me. what they did was sent it home where my mother lived.phoenix az. so I never saw the gun until I got out you how much gun laws have changed.

  12. Although not really a conceal option, I LOVE my Judge. Have it set up as a chest carry for a back up hunting option/damn bears/ when fishing no problem handgun. Fires flawlessly, accurate as all get out and felt recoil isn’t that bad for a 45 LC. considering all the options for caliber loads, home defense and shot gun loads, all I can say is “its the tits”!

  13. 1st weapon fired at age 10 was a 12 gauge. I will never forget that. Now
    70 yrs later after 21 years military and 18 years law enforcement I have a
    9mm Hi Power, SW Model 19-4, Mode 686dd, well you know, Auto are nice but I still carry my model 19….Love the revolver. 1st Job I had in the Air Force was cleaning new S&W 38s with 2″ barrels for flight crews. The 1st Sgt told me when I was finished I could leave for the day after he inspected the ones cleaned. I counted 60 to be cleaned. I was late for dinner that day. Flight crews were exchanging their model 1911 45’s. Colts. Wonder what ever happened to those………………….

  14. My first Handgun was a Ruger Security Six 6 inch barrel, back in the early 70’s, after shooting it out – US Army Pistol Team, I got a GP-100. I liked the looks and they way they shot, so I found some Security Sixes in each length that were new in the box. I still to this day have the snub nosed one with the regular (Walnut) Grips and I also have the larger Target grips too. I own a ton of handguns and my favorites to carry are a Ruger Sp101 with an XS Night sight on the front and Houge Grip, and a Kimber Ultra 45acp with Night Sights. A lot of times, I carry them both at the same time – you never know. Mike – US Army Pistol Team 1974 – 1977.

  15. I have two S&W Performance Centrer 627’s, 2 5/8th and a 5 inch compensated. A Uberti SA Competition Cattleman, Ruger Backhawk chambered in .30 carbine (this a seriously fun/accurate gun to shoot, and last but not least. Nagant, M1895.
    I carry the 627 snubby quite often. 8 rounds with quick reloads with moon clips and smooth as silk with either the DA or SA trigger pull.
    Revolvers have not lost their relevance and I’m looking forward to Colts new offering in .38 special.

  16. The first revolver, first handgun for that matter, that I shot was when I was in my early teens. I’ll never forget my father telling me I better hold on tight as he handed me his Ruger New Model Super Blackhawk .44 magnum. At present, I own an equal number of each semi-auto pistols & revolvers, but if made to choose, I’ll take a wheel gun every day.

  17. The first wheel gun I bought myself was a Ruger GP100 back in 1992, it was a 4in stainless with fixed sights and I loved it. A few years back I gave my mom my S&W 637 for self defense because it was about the only gun that was light enough for her to handle that she could pull the double action trigger on that I had in my had been my carry pistol at the time. I miss that that gun a lot, so much so that I may just trade in my Glock 19 for one, the Glock 19 is my current carry gun, but I all ways felt good with that little Smith on my side.

  18. I recently did an analysis of my firearms to see if I needed to upgrade or thin any. At the top of the list of MOST USED was a 22 revolver I bought used in 1975 It is a cheap German Arminus 22 and has done yeoman duty around the homestead. The mainspring got weak and it refused to fire about a year ago and I simply twisted in a strong spring doubling it and its back in service. I supplemented ti with a new SS 22 revolver with 4 inch barrel but have no intention of parting with the old Arminus. (it aint; pretty tho) For carry I insist on a SS 640 with 2 inch barrel and an excellent trigger. Alternately its a G19.
    This project was interesting to me as had not realized how much use the old 22 revolver had gotten. For what its worth I think of the J frame as a 5 shot derringer. Its amazing how quick five rounds go away. Extreme reliability is important. Trapper

  19. I spent three full years in Iraq and Afghanistan carrying a Government Issue M9 semi-automatic that jammed about once out of every clip I shot. I complained about it often and was forbidden from carrying anything else. I argued all the while that it is ridiculous to send someone into battle with a defective weapon. At home, I carry a .38 Special or a Ruger .44 Magnum Super Blackhawk. I am 6’4″ and weigh 250 lbs. I have no trouble finding a place to conceal either of them, though the .38 is a lot easier than the .44, so I usually end up carrying it most of the time. As for home defense, I’ll meet you in the hallway with a 12 gage automatic, and after I empty it on you five times, I’ll call the police and tell them I was afraid you were going to kill me so I made sure you were dead. In the mean time, I don’t have to worry about putting a round through the wall and shooting the neighbor’s kid asleep in his bed in the next apartment.

    1. Thank you for serving! I was only put on alert once then my time in the Army was up.
      With Respect,
      10th Mtn.

  20. My first revolver was a Colt Army Special in 32-20 inheirited from my great uncle. Still shoots great! I now carry a Ruger LCR in 357. Ability to practice with 38 special reduces cost and fatigue.

  21. First gun, S&W Model 19-3, 4 inch blued, combat hammer & trigger (extra wide). 3.5 lb trigger pull, red insert front sight, adjustable white rear sight. Oh ya what a beauty. Easy to carry, accuracy is amazing (depending on shooter) purchased 02/1976 looks and shoots like new.
    Second gun Colt Mark IV Series 70 Government Model .45 ACP. Another beauty.

  22. My first revolver being taught by my Father was his Colt Officers Model Match in 22 lr . It had a 6″ Bbl with adjustable sights. My First revolver I bought my self was a Smith and Wesson model 10 with a 6″ pinned barrel in 38 Spl with fixed sights , my current carry revolver is a Ruger Security-Six 4″ Bbl 357 Mag. With adjustable sights.So I guess im a revolver guy true and true at my local IDPA match usually most often then not im the only one using a revolver , but in must cases very rarely i have company

  23. This is just my opinion, but I bought a .22 Luger back in the 70’s when my daughter was 3 rather than a revolver because it was impossible for a child to pull back on the Luger slide to load a round and I never left a round in the chamber. I would fear that a 6 or 8 year old child could pull back the hammer on a revolver and shoot it.

  24. 1st pistol I ever shot was an H&R model 922, a nine-shot .22 revolver. The first pistol I ever carried on duty was a S&W Model 10 2″ (I was a dispatcher). When I went to patrol I started with the classic Mod 10 4″, but bought a S&W Model 19 as soon as I could get my hands on one. Spent most of my civilian policing career with the 1911, though. During my military career as a CID agent I carried (again) a Model 10 2″, and finished up my career with the M11 (Sig 228).

  25. I have many hand guns to choose from for concealed carry. The weather , formal or casual dress , or type of outdoor activities etc. will always play a factor in what to carry. But I can always can grab my old mdl 36 S&W and toss it in my pocket in a Uncle Mikes pocket holster ! Old school steel frame , bobbed hammer ,slick trigger job , Bear Coat Teflon finished ,+P 5 shot derringer ! Just Saying ! Old School , yea , School Of Hard Knocks !

  26. You asked in the header “why would someone want a revolver over a semi auto”… simple because the Judge isn’t made in semiauto!

  27. I have an older Ruger Single Six and just recently bought the S&W 686+ and just love it. Revolver gal all the way.

  28. Depending on what I am wearing and where I’m going, I will carry my Colt Defender 45ACP, Charter Arms 2.5in. .44spl. Bulldog(most carried) or S&W Mod 36 .38spl. All 3 very concealable and very comfortable to carry especially for long periods of times. Carry ammo for the 45 and 38 always Hornady while the 44spl holds Winch. STHP. You never know when you’ll meet up with a werewolf. lol

  29. “….the .357 Magnum revolver is the most versatile defensive revolver of all, because it can fire both .357 Magnum and .38 Special cartridges.”

    Shuddent have gone there Scott. 😉 Somewhat nitpikky here. “Most versatile defensive revolver,” perhaps; but not for the ‘reason’ stated. You know, of course, the .44 Mag can do the same with the .44 Special. As Elmer Keith, or Jeff Cooper, etc., once opined: “Any caliber of handgun is sufficient, as long as the number starts with a four(4)!”

    1. And my 454 Casull will shoot 45 Long Colts !!! But for the average Joe, that can’t handle 44 Mags or 454 Casull’s – I LOVE my 357’s all 9 of them…

      Mike – US Army Pistol Team 1974 – 1977

  30. Grew up with revolvers. Was issued a 1911 in the army. I am comfortable with both and have tried both for coceled carry. I settled on the revolver as the round butt of a revolver with combat grips is not near as recognisable as the square butt of of an auto when it prints thru your shirt in warm weather.

  31. If you study defensive shootings you’ll find it rare to have over six rounds fired. Speed and accuracy are what count and that’s what a revolver is good at. I can load my Mod 19 with wax bullets and practice drawing/firing anytime in my garage.

    My first revolver fired was my dad’s High Standard .22. I’ll always have a wheelie around to rely on.

  32. My LE handgun was a Colt 38 police special. I’ve had it since 1978 and it has never let me down, I’ve fired 1000’s of rounds through it over the years and i still take it to the range. I love this gun. My back up gun was snub nose Colt Cobra .38 and I use it for carry conceal now. This gun is an awesome as well and super reliable. I shoot this every time I go to range as well. I have retired officers at the range that love them as well and step in to fire off a few rounds. I have a friend that sold me his CZ BD police 9mm and I love the semi automatic and it’s been very reliable but I still find myself migrating to my revolvers. I love sharing the firing of the guns at the range. Not too many folks carry my type of .38’s. They all seem to like the large flashy .44’s. They are ones most likely to try mine. Especially the snub nose.

  33. I have several semi auto’s. I do love capacity. But i also advise for a first time shooter or someone new to carrying a weapon to go with a revolver. They are just about fool proof as long as the maintenance is done. And that you us decent ammo. Hornaday make good quality rounds for all weapons v

  34. Being a jeweler/watchmaker makes it important to always be armed. My choice for more than 20+ years is the Smith & Wesson 940. Since it’s a 9mm I use moon clips for fast reloads w/+P ammunition.

  35. I also “cut my teeth” with a couple of Smith & Wesson revolvers…….a 4″ Model 34-1 Kit Gun in .22LR and 4″ Heavy Barrel Model 10-5 in .38 Special……..and still enjoy both guns. Although I carry a 9mm Glock most of the time, I do love to occasionally carry my Colt Cobra .38 Special snubbie with factory hammer shroud made in 1966. At just over 1 lb loaded, it is a joy to carry. The trigger is smooth as oil on an ice cube and it has proven to be completely reliable, dependable, and quite accurate for a 2″ barrel.

  36. I own several revolvers a Dan Wesson 357.A Luger 22 target and a Ruger 22 target the 357 is to large to carry
    So I carry a Berita 9mm nano but I use the 357 for home defense and it’s my favorite hand gun

  37. My wife an I share a new Ruger six shot, LCR in 327 Federal Magnum. It can digest any of four cartridges. She finds that the older 32 S&W Long cartridge very easy to handle. The shorter 32 S&W is rather wimpy but my load is the 327 FM which has about the same ballistics as a .38+P.
    The 32 H&R magnum is in between, and about the same as a regular .38 Special. We both have Ruger LCP’s but I prefer the wheel gun when we’re together..

  38. I carried a revolver throughout my LE career and it was the most reliable firearm you could have. It ALWAYS went bang when you pulled the trigger. When there was a tragic Officer involved shooting the Officer usually fired one, two or maybe even three rounds at most. Officers did not fire six rounds and reload and start firing more. Now it seems to be normal for Officers to fire 15 rounds and then reload and maybe even fire off more rounds. Officers are getting killed even after firing all these rounds because the suspect was only slightly wounded after police fired 30 or more rounds at him. In my time the Officer fired so few round because he was a much better shot and placed his shots where they would do the most good. I always felt confident that the 6 rounds were more often than not all I needed because of training. Revolvers are very reliable and accurate if you are trained in it’s proper use.

  39. I carry a Charter Arms 44 Special revolver with a 3″ barrel. I bought it in 1986 and it has never failed me. It is very accurate and easily concealed.

    1. Ah, yes, Steven…..The old Charter .44Spl Bulldog was and is a great little revolver. I have had mine since the 90s, picking it up used at a local gun show. I liked it so much, when I saw another at another gun show, I bought it too. For what ever it might be worth, one of my two had a habit of sticking the trigger in the rear position, and it became somewhat troublesome, so I traded it off for some other piece, to a fellow who said he was familiar with that sort of glitch in Bulldogs and could fix it. Beyond that, I have three Charter Pit Bull revolvers to complete the series… in 9x19mm, one in .40S&W, and one in .45ACP that I recently finally found at a local gun show.

      As some may know, the Pit Bull series chambers pistol cartridges without the need of clips for ejection of empty cases. My Pit Bull 9mm is one of the originals that has a six chamber cylinder, making it somewhat a rarity now that the current crop of Pit Bull 9mm revolvers are five shooters. So…..I’d guess that I will need to obtain a five shot version to complete the series.

    2. I have had my Bulldog since the mid 70s. It’s the one that has the cylinder pin swinging in the breeze. It was bobbed, de-horned and coated with a 1980s version of ????coat. The barrel now says ‘DOG’ and I filed grooves in the top of the hammer allowing me to pull the hammer to full cock allowing a sgl action trigger. Pachmeyer (?) grips fit nicely. It shoots very nicely and the grips allow me to have fun w/o pain.

  40. I think revolvers are great! I’ve got a couple of them & enjoy shooting target practice with them. The 44 magnum I shoot only light .44 Special target loads in it 4 gr. Bullseye behind a 240 gr cast bullet. Pleasant for me to shoot. Anything close to a magnum load give me a case of flinches that take 6 months to get rid of. My 2nd one is a Ruger Blackhawk chambered for the 30 Carbine. Except for the muzzle blast it is very comfortable for me to shoot even with maximum loads & more accurate than I expected expected. Recoil with hot loads don’t cause flinching problems for me with this one.
    I have 2 9mms pistols. An old cherry M-39 S&W. Nice fit for my small hands, but I don’t enjoy factory loads in this one & hot loads seem to cause my flinching to flare up. Being old doesn’t seem to help (76 years now). It also doesn’t handle light cast bullet hand loads well, jams more than I care for.
    On the plus side, my relatively new CZ-P07, is a real joy to shoot. Seems to feed everything I shoot thru it & OAL isn’t critical either. Lower than average bore in relationship to the grip also lowers felt recoil. It has the smoothest out of the box DA trigger I’ve ever felt.
    I enjoy revolvers & automatic pistols equally, but for self defense I choose the CZ for myself. It suit my shooting perfectly. Probably I’ve made this choice because I believe developing the skill to shoot a DA revolver takes much more time for me to develop.
    I admire those who can skillfully shoot & reload their DA revolvers quickly.

  41. I am very pleased to see this article about the revolver, an ‘ancient’ form of firearms. I have owned a revolver for over 50 years, and now I have two. This article is mainly about double action revolvers, which you can reload fairly quickly and shoot quickly in rapid succession as well. So, I am very pleased to see Dave compare revolvers with semi-auto pistols. Most of this article is about double action revolvers, where you simply pull the trigger and it pulls back the hammer for you, and then releases it so it can hit the cartridge and then shoot the bullet.

    But the two revolvers I own are western style single action, which means I have to manually pull the hammer back each time I fire it. Mine are both Ruger Blackhawk handguns – a 357 blued 6.5″ barrel, and a convertible Ruger stainless 45 Colt 5.5″ barrel . As is the case with just about all 357 Mag revolvers, it shoots 38 special ammo as well. This gives this gun a VERY wide range of ammo power, almost the widest range of just about ANY handgun. At the low end, the weakest manufactured 38 special is around 200 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy, and the most powerful .357 Mag load I have found comes in at 907 ft. lbs.! This a factor of 4.5!

    But not all 357 revolvers can safely shoot the most powerful loads, especially the stub nose versions shown here in Dave’s article. The same safety issue is the case also with the 45 LC loads. My other Ruger revolver is a convertible one, which means that you can switch out the cylinder and shoot’ other’ ammo. Of course, the other ammo must be essentially the same caliber, so the bullet can ‘slide’ down the barrel safely and be accurate.. .So, in my handgun’s case, this other cylinder is for 45 ACP ammo, which is quite popular, and usually considerably less expensive than .45 LC ammo. And the .45 ammo varies in power greatly also, going from essentially about 300 ft. lbs. up to 1,344 ft. lbs., almost as much as a 44 Mag heavy load. This is again a range in power of about 4.5, just like the .357 Mag.

    In my research, no other handgun ammo is manufactured in such a power range. The 44 Mag varies in a range of just 2.5. Even the very popular (albeit, fairly weak) 9mm ammo varies from about 300 muzzle ft. lbs. up to 472 ft. lbs., which is a range of just under 1.6.

    So, when considering what to buy, you may want to factor in more than just if the handgun is concealable or not. If it is stopping power you are really interested in, then there are a lot more options in revolvers, although there are 44 Mag and 357 Mag semi-auto pistols out there, but in much fewer options, and a LOT more $!

    Since I have owned Ruger for over 50 years, I would direct anyone looking into getting a handgun to at least check out Ruger handguns by going to their web site for revolvers at I would recommend the Redhawk line for double action revolvers, and the Blackhawk line for single action revolvers. These revolvers will be able to shoot just about any heavy loads, have adjustable sites, and safety triggers now (they will not shoot when dropped or bumped, as all revolvers use to in the old west days). They also come in various barrel lengths, although I would not recommend any shorter than 4.2″, unless you really want a very concealed weapon and it is used just for that.

    Keep in mind, the shorter the barrel, the more kick firing the weapon will have, given the same load. Also, in general, power and accuracy drops as the barrel length does as well. My Ruger 357 Blackhawk 6.5″ barrel is quite accurate at even 100 yards (relatively speaking for a handgun), given a reasonably high loaded ammo. I have only shot my Ruger 45 LC only up to 50 yards for test purposes, so I cannot speak how its shorter barrel and its loads will do at 100 yards. But all ammo drops over distance, even high powered sniper rifles. So, with adjustable sites (as many of the Ruger’s have), you can set the sites on these handguns to account for the drop, and thus be more accurate over distances.

    If anyone would like to know more about ammo ballistics, as well as where to buy online, just email me for my free ballistics file which concentrates a lot more on handguns, but also has some rifle calibers, and some military equipment as well just for fun and comparisons. I can be reached at vlavalle @ix.netcom .com.

    Vincent (01-04-2017)

  42. Great story, and I agree 100%. I have the S&W 686 + in a 2 1/2″ barrel for years now among others.. I am wondering if I made a mistake in not getting the 3″ for carry. My concern is the 2 1/2″ not having the velocity, expansion and ability to burn all the powder as the 3″. What do you think, Should I get another carry 686+ in 3″?

  43. My usual EDC handguns are normally pistols, due to their relatively large magazine capacities, along with ease of reloading and carry of extra ammunition. That said, though, I have several revolvers in my collection, and I routinely carry revolvers as my first line of defense in my automobiles. Each car has a concealed holster in which rides a Smith & Wesson Governor revolver loaded with .410 gauge 00 buckshot…..being faster to get into action than trying to draw my pistol from my holster amidst the seat belt and back of the driver’s seat.

    At home, in the evening, while I usually have a sub-compact SIG P250 on my hip, when I retire for the evening, my bed has a Chiappa Rhino .357 Mag revolver tucked into a holster on the side of the bed. And…..I am currently awaiting the arrival of the Kimber K6S revolver that I have had on order with one of my local gun shops… fill the same niche.

    While limited in magazine capacity, the revolver still provides quick and reliable defense, and when asked by new shooters what I’d recommend for their first defensive handgun, I always recommend a double action revolver.

  44. I first became a believer in revolvers about 20 years ago when I was doing gunsmithing work out of my garage. I would occasionally get calls that a family member has died and owned firearms. I would be asked to come to the house to make sure that they were unloaded and to give them an idea of their value. This I would do free of charge. I was at one home where someone’s grandfather had passed and after I had examined his rifles and shotguns they brought me his revolver from his night stand.

    It was a S&W pre model 10 revolver in 38 special. I opened the cylinder and found it was fully loaded with lead round nose rounds. The head stamp on these rounds was REM-UMC, a head stamp that was discontinued in the early 60’s I believe. I asked the family if they would indulge my curiosity and allow me to fire the revolver at the back of their property. This they agreed to. I went outside and reloaded the revolver with these ancient rounds and all six fired without incident. How many pistols would perform as intended after laying in a drawer fully loaded for approximately 40-50 years?

    I have accumulated many pistols and revolvers in my lifetime. But in my night stand there is a S&W model 66 loaded and ready for action.

  45. Some great points supporting your position. I used to carry my Ruger LCR .38 +P more than my Glock Model 30. The 30 was too bulky and heavy. In fact, after having that Model 30 for 18 years, I finally sold it and bought a Gen 4 Model 19 last month. My house pistol now. For carrying in my truck it is still the LCR.

  46. Thanks Scott for the very good article. No BS, just very good facts about revolvers. I have just as many revolvers as I do pistols. I enjoy shooting my revolvers more than I do the pistols. I have far more variety in calibers in the revolvers.

  47. My first revolver and current favorite is a Ruger SP101 Match Champion. I’ve been using mostly 38 Specials so far but I have a Henry Bigboy in 357/38S and it feeds 357 better so i’ll probably be using more .357 in the future. I originally thought I’d be using less ammo since the revolver takes more time to reload. Actually the opposite is true. Although a 1911 holds 1 more round, it takes longer to fill up a magazine than it does to fill the revolver especially with a speed loader. I also like the heft of the Ruger.

  48. I’m a revolver gal! At 59 years old, small frame, arthritis setting in, my Ruger SP101 .357 magnum is such a joy to fire and to carry. My other carry / home defense guns are Bond Arms with .410 shot shells.

    Your reasoning is correct. If I should ever need to use my personal/home defense firearm, reliability is number one priority. I like external hammers on my guns so I have the option of SA. Except, my Bond Arms have a much heavier trigger than my SP101 in SA.

    Thank you for this article.

  49. I wish we had more updated revolvers to choose from. Due to the width of the cylinder, smaller caliber revolvers have the advantage when it comes to concealment. An alloy frame, 6 shot, moon clip loaded .327 Federal revolver would be great, IMHO.

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