The handgun under review is a burly and reliable .357 Magnum double-action revolver. A bit of background is necessary. Rock Island Armory also offers an affordable, matte-finished, double-action .38 Special made in the Philippines. The AL3.0 is a different revolver, more expensive, and designed to handle the .357 Magnum cartridge.
The AL3.0 costs about twice the price of the Armscor 206. The entry-level 206 is a reasonable gun for the price. The heavy-duty AL3.0 is a good all-around service, protection, and outdoors revolver. The AL3.0 is manufactured in the Czech Republic. I researched the company and found references as far back as 1990 to similar revolvers including the Kora .38. The Czech revolver resembles some American revolvers but also has a European flair.
RIA AL3.0 Features
Among the best features of the AL3.0 is the pebbled rubber handle. I prefer a grip that separates the frame from the hand. This cushions recoil. The grip features a slim cross-section that accommodates my average-size hand well. Without stretching my hand, I can take a firm purchase on this revolver.
This is a holster gun, not a pocket gun, but it may be concealed in a proper inside-the-waistband holster. The large grip will ride in the hollow of the back in a proper concealment holster.
The barrel is an even 2.0 inches and features a full lug enclosing the ejector rod to prevent damage to the rod. The stainless finish is very good, even, and well-polished. The front sight is a ramp that is pinned to the barrel. The rear sight is a simple groove in the front strap.
These sights are similar to those in the Smith and Wesson Military and Police or Colt Cobra-type revolver. They are not high visibility, but they are precise when properly aligned. The front sight is serrated, but the serrations are not high visibility. Just the same, the black front sight isn’t shiny in bright light.
The revolver is opened for loading by pressing the cylinder release forward. The cylinder fits in the frame without any slop. Fit is good to excellent. The revolver cylinder is smooth in operation and the crane fits into the frame properly. I suspect the crane design is less likely to become warped than some designs and is simpler to manufacture, if not as elegant as some designs.
A good feature seldom seen in this century are counter shrunk chambers. This was once done as a safety feature against a cartridge case head rupture with magnum ammunition. It certainly doesn’t hurt anything, although the likelihood of a case fracture is small. Just the same, while I have not experienced this in a revolver personally, I have seen two split cases in revolvers in my training classes.
As for the cylinder latch. it is a modern design intended to diminish the chance of the thumb contacting the latch. This would be painful with magnum recoil. The AL3.0 cylinder rotates into the frame from the left in the fashion of Colt revolvers. Rotation is smooth.
The double-action trigger is smooth and operates without hitch or grit. According to the Lyman electronic trigger gauge, double-action compression is 11.9 pounds and 3.8 pounds in single action. The hammer spur is serrated for easy cocking.
The trigger is wider than some and serrated nicely. The AL3.0 uses a transfer bar system. When the hammer is at rest, it cannot possibly contact the firing pin, and the firing pin cannot contact a cartridge primer.
When the revolver’s trigger is pressed fully to the rear and the hammer falls, the transfer bar has moved into place and is smacked by the hammer firing the revolver.
The revolver weighs 32 ounces unloaded. This is a hefty weight. A criticism of .357 Magnum snub-nose revolvers is that they have heavy recoil. The Rock, as I have come to affectionately call this revolver, is comfortable to fire with heavy loads. Part of the equation is weight, and the other is the well-designed grips.
Accuracy and Handling
I began the evaluation with several handloads. I favor a 165-grain SWC at about 1,000 fps for training and practice, put up in .38 Special cases. The Rock handles these well. Firing double action at 7 yards, I was surprised at how well the revolver handled. It was smooth with the modest stacking that is typical of double-action revolvers using a coil spring rather than a leaf spring.
The sights are not easily picked up, but you may simply lay the front sight over the target calculating for the bullet to strike over the front sight. Very good double-action shooting was accomplished. I fired several cylinders full of a good mix of .38 Special loads. I enjoyed good results extending the firing range to 10 and then 15 yards.
The trigger is controllable. There is a large shale rock of about 4×6 dimension on the berm. At about 30 yards, it isn’t an easy pistol target. I fired five heavy .38 loads and busted the rock four of six times while scaring it with the other two. The Rock .357 would be accurate enough for defense work, home defense, or protection against animals in the wild.
This brings us to ammunition selection. I don’t usually consider energy important in comparing pistol loads but much more important with rifles. Actual damage means the most. Just the same, I fired a few old 158-grain Widow Maker .38 special loads.
The average velocity of these 158-grain RNL loads was 609 fps for a paltry 130-foot pounds energy. A 110-grain hollow point at 880 fps breaks 189-foot pounds. The short barrel of the Rock doesn’t allow a full powder burn resulting in lower velocity.
Switching to .357 Magnum ammunition, the Black Hills ammunition 127-grain Honey Badger averaged 1,120 fps for 354-foot pounds energy. Other 125-grain JHP loads exhibited similar velocity. As a side note, the 127-grain Honey Badger clocked 1,438 fps in my 4-inch Smith and Wesson Model 66. A 125-grain JHP .38 Special handload clocked 780 fps in the Rock and 1,090 fps in a 6-inch barrel Taurus revolver.
A cartridge relying on velocity for effect is cut down severely in a short-barrel revolver. A surprisingly strong showing came from the Buffalo Bore .38 Special 158-grain LSWCHP. This lead hollow point will expand well at modest velocity. I clocked this load in a recent test at 953 fps in a 2.2-inch barrel. In the Rock, this strong load clocked 1,003 fps!
Recoil is brutal in an air-weight .38 snub. In the Rock, this load is docile. Energy is 353-foot pounds — exactly one pound less than the 127-grain magnum load. I also clocked the superbly accurate and reliable Winchester .357 Magnum 145-grain Silvertip at 1,114 fps breaking 400-foot pounds of energy.
Load selection means a lot. For personal defense the Buffalo Bore .38 is a top choice with 125-grain JHP loads the top magnum load. I would deploy the Silvertip if animals were at the top of the threat list.
When I began testing this handgun, I kept an open mind. I really had no idea where the testing would lead. A term that kept occurring to me was failsafe. The Rock Island AL3.0 is a reliable revolver. It is simple to load, unload, and manipulate. Firing requires only pressing the trigger.
For many shooters it would serve best loaded with .38 Special ammunition as a home defender. Recoil is modest. With the .357 Magnum option, we have a superior field gun that would serve well against the ever-increasing chance of felons in the wild, feral dogs, and even the big cats.
As a postscript, I tested the revolver for absolute accuracy. Firing from a solid benchrest using a testing fixture, I fired a number of 5-shot groups at 15 yards. I will close with these. The revolver proved accurate. This isn’t combat firing, and it was a chore to properly line the sights up at this distance, but this is a handgun a trained shooter will get a lot out of.
|Federal 158-grain RNL||1.35 in.|
|Federal 129-grain Hydra-Shok||1.9 in.|
|Winchester 125-grain JHP||2.2 in.|
|Winchester 145-grain Silvertip||1.75 in.|
Packing the Rock
I used a 1791 Universal Belt Slide. This large-sized belt slide may be used as an inside the waistband holster or as an outside the waistband holster. This is quality leather like all 1791 products. It offers a single holster that fits several handguns and makes for good utility when carrying the Rock .357.
Very interested in this bit equally frustrating when you don’t advertise or hide the price. Makes one want to go elsewhere
Thanks for your insight, BO. As LEO budgets have been cut, and the biggest hit has been in proper Firearm training, the SPRAY & PRAY method of shooting has become the norm. When my father & cousins were all working Police officers, (60’s – 80’s) .38 revolvers were issued. Back then, if you wanted to use an effective round, the 148 gr. Wadcutter, “hot loaded” by a friend or relative, was the only way to go. The AL3.0, in .357, would be a much better revolver with a 3″ – 4″ barrel, and be more effective with the modern .357 rounds. Otherwise, using current .38 ammo, RI could have reduced the weight, and have created a S&W model 10 clone. Too bad.
Bo, you make some excellent points. I have long described the spray-and-pray types as suffering from diarrhea of the trigger finger, but I believe this attitude is being reinforced by the current police emphasis on dumping a magazine or two at a perp, It’s not just an autonomic response, but has become part of their training. They have been conditioned to shoot until the threat is stopped (whatever that means). Honestly, I am not adverse to the idea of rearming some people with revolvers, preferably cap-and-ball single actions. The first shot is the most critical, and he who makes the first hit is most likely going to win the fight. Bullet mass, velocity, and volume of fire are no substitute for this. Proper attitude and realistic training are the best preparation, but there are no guarantees, only probabilities of success.
@Bo, We as human beings also tend to romanticize what we haven’t directly experienced. The idea of war is delightful to the young and ambitious, who’ve never had to use a weapon against another life, or survived a weapon being used against theirs.
@Bill, The situation you describe is not uncommon in police shootings, and it appears that as hi-cap weapons have increased in popularity in many, if not most police forces, it is far more common than most people care to admit. Some background on me. I am a retired ER Nurse. I worked in the three busiest ER in my state at one time or another in a more than 30 year period. On occasion, I had one full time job and a per-diem gig to earn some extra cash in a different ER, when they were limiting overtime. Before that, I was a medic in the Army, on a team that was trained in SAR/ Recon. We all carried weapons. Mine was a 1911A1.
After I left ER, I taught nursing students, subjects like critical care, physiology and pathophysiology. And that brings me to your comment about police shootings and the high miss rate in those shootings. It boils down to a physiologic response to that thing called stress. We, as human beings, were created with certain responses to outside stimuli that increase our potential to save our lives in times of increased stress.
When we are subjected to stressors that surpass our internal thresholds, our Autonomic Nervous System sets off a series of responses over which we have no conscious control. One part of the Autonomic Nervous System is the Sympathetic Nervous System which is what gives us the Fight or Flight response. When the Sympathetic Nervous System engages, acetylcholine is released causing the adrenal glands to dump epinephrine (adrenaline) into our blood stream and just about all our internal organs are affected. Heart rate, respiratory rate go up, the GI tract slows down and there are some other responses that are hard for some people to understand. The radial muscles in the iris contract allowing more light into our eyes and the ciliary muscles in our eyes relax allowing us to see further but we develop what is known as tunnel vision as our near visual acuity becomes very limited as our far vision is enhanced. Many people will feel that time is slowing down and they are moving in slow motion. I experienced this more than once during my stint in the Army going back to more than 50 years ago, when I was overseas.
The upshot of all this is, when these things happen, it becomes difficult for a person to perform tasks that are simple when performed in a non-stressful situation, like firing a weapon. Tunnel vision makes acquiring the front sight VERY difficult and sometimes impossible. Add to that, the weapon you are holding out in front of you may be rising and falling with each heartbeat and you, the shooter, are probably completely unaware of that fact. Many people who encounter this the first time, resort to spray and pray techniques. That term was, to my knowledge, coined during the late unpleasantness in Southeast Asia back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Hey, that is when I was in the Army! What a coincidence!
The very first time a person is called upon to engage another person with a firearm is what I believe to be the most stressful time in that person’s life. Been there, done that. And I believe that today, even after burying my parents, and a son. And those were hell.
There has been documentation of this effect in multiple studies of police shootings. This Fight or Flight reaction is why a huge number of police shootings have recorded that the hit ratio in many shootings involving police officers is seldom more than 25%. NYPD did a study on Police shootings from 1990 to 2000, an eleven year study, which showed over those 11 years, the mean average of hits, just hits, not fatal hits, was 15%. (Source: http://www.theppsc.org/Staff_Views/Aveni/OIS.pdf)
In that study, the year with the highest mean average hit ratio was 1998 with a mere 25% and in 2000, the mean was only 9%. (Source: http://www.theppsc.org/Staff_Views/Aveni/OIS.pdf) Some have posited that the reason for so many misses was all the officers had begun carrying hi-cap weapons and did a spray and pray. What many fail to recognize is that the Sympathetic Nervous System is not something we can turn on or off like a light switch. Those who think they will be different are ill-informed and a danger to themselves and others. We had a word for those people when I was in the Army… Casualties. They went home in a box under a flag. It is only after several times of experiencing that phenomenon did most of us get to where we could really function in spite of it.
I have heard a number of people give all sorts of comments, such as “Yeah, but those guys don’t practice as much as I do…” In Oklahoma, where I have lived for the last 40 plus years, there have been well over half a dozen police shootings, just in the last few years in different municipalities and the local news media outlets reported that in each case, there were no injuries. That would mean ZERO hits at all by the bad guys or the cops.
Probably 25 years ago, I had several cop friends who engaged a murder suspect in a restaurant after he drew his weapon to fire on them. Those officers all emptied their hi-cap weapons and the reports showed that fewer than half the rounds fired by those officers even hit the target at a range of less than ten feet. And most of the rounds that struck the target were not mortal wounds. There were just enough rounds that were mortal wounds to deal with the issue at hand, which was neutralizing one very bad guy. At least two of these officers spent more time on the range than just about anyone I knew as they were on a pistol team and shot competitively. These were men who were more proficient than most when it came to handling weapons, and fewer than have the rounds expended struck the target.
When it was all over, the entire dining room was a shambles. Fortunately it was in the wee hours of the morning and there were very few customers in the place, just the cops, and the bad guy, for whom those very officers had spent the previous several hours looking for after the bad guy shot and killed someone. No staff was injured physically, but the emotional toll was evident. It took a long time for that restaurant to reopen.
What does all this add up to? Those cops were human and subject to the same rules that all other humans are. A lot of veterans understand those situations and cannot talk about it. Some cannot deal with the aftermath of being in those situations. That is why 22 vets take their own life every day. I cannot for the life of me understand those who think being in this situation is something to look forward to, to almost lust after it. Once you have been there, it is a part of you and will be with you until you die, and for more than a few, it has been the death of them, years after the fact.
I love Revolvers a 38 sw model 10 was my first issued duty weapon carried 158 grn semi wadcutter loads nothing hot or flashy about it but I never witnessed it even read about anyone being shot in the body with 6 to 12 rounds that kept fighting. In my experience (law enforcement 89-2015) I never loaded my second speed loader. in the early to mid nineties we transitioned to 9mm and 40sw Berettas and Glocks. Just before I retired in 15 my agency had a young officer get in a fire fight with an assailant the officer expended 30 plus rounds of 40 sw and struck the bad guy twice. Accuracy by volume is a liability for the shooter and the agency if he carries a firearm for a living. My personal pistol is a Dan Wesson 357 4 inch the trigger is not as nice as my old model 10 but I can still cover a double action group at 25 yard with one hand. most of the time it’s loaded with hot 38s
I follow Elmer Keith’s advice about 2″ magnums. I avoid them. A magnum barrel should be at least 3″, and preferably longer. The only 2″ revolvers I carry are 38 Specials. No matter how hot I load them, they will not match the 357, but they will generate far less recoil, blast, and muzzle flash, yet can still be effective when loaded with modern defensive loads. All those stories about the 38 being ineffective can be traced to poor ammunition design. The old lead round nose projectile and round nose FMJ are relatively ineffective unless they strike a vital area. This is also true of the vaunted 45 ACP. Choose your ammo wisely.
Long time fan of the S&W “J” frame revolvers, but found that the AIRLITE models are painful to shoot. This new Rock Island .357 seems to be a nice option, and Czech firearms are as good as anything available. (S&W of Europe?) Based on your review, this would be an almost ideal revolver for older shooters, as there is sufficient weight to control recoil, and more important, if those trigger pull weights are consistent across the production run, it is at a level that older shooters can handle. Too bad there is not a 3″ or 4″ barrel version available. Only issue now is – When will these revolvers be on dealers’ shelves?
I have a j frame 38+ model 640 which I like a lot especially when I change out the springs with Wilson tune up springs went the latest trigger pull it’s like a new gun great shooter
The .38 RNL is not called Widow Maker due to its effect on target but due to the many dozens of attackers who took 6 to 12 hits with the .38 RNL load went on to kill the cop that shot them.
Some of the modern loads are much better.