Speedloading — How to Quickly Load a Revolver

Hand guiding the speedloader into a black pistol against a mottled brown background.

About half of the students in my training classes use a revolver. The revolver is not immune to malfunctions, and a good quality revolver is as reliable as a machine can be. The subject of revolver speed loads comes up often, and most of the time the speed load is done half right or incorrectly.

What follows is the proper way.

Hand guiding the speedloader into a black pistol against a mottled brown background.
Guide the speedloader with the fingers. The knob isn’t very secure when your hands are shaking.

The Right Way

It is true the revolver may be replenished from a cartridge loop after firing only one or two rounds and for this reason some users deploy spare ammunition in a loop rig and also carry speed loaders.

  • When reloading quickly, the cylinder is emptied regardless of how many cartridges remain in the chambers.
  • After the revolver is fired empty, the strong hand transfers the revolver to the non dominant hand (in my case this is the left hand). In doing so, the strong hand first hits the cylinder release.
  • The weak hand palm rides over the trigger guard and the fingers press the cylinder open, while the thumb strikes the ejector rod.
  • The muzzle is pointed straight up to avoid a case-under-the-ejector malfunction as the spent cases are ejected.
  • The strong hand draws a speed loader from the strong side carrier as the weak hand orients the muzzle of the revolver toward the ground.
  • The speedloader is moved to the cylinder, the cartridges inserted, the device twisted, and as the cartridges fall into the cylinder, the speedloader is dropped.
  • The thumb of the support hand presses the cylinder shut as the strong-side hand grasps the handle, and you are ready to fire again.
Young man in a teal jacket firing his revolver through a jacket into a grassy area.
This student is firing through a jacket pocket.

The problem often lies in education. Students are taught to:

  1. Grasp the speed loader by the knob.
  2. Insert five or six wobbly cartridges into the cylinder.
  3. Twist the knob.
  4. Drop the speed loader.
Hand holding a black pistol with muzzle pointed up and focus on empty cases being ejected on a green background.
Be certain the empty cases are completely ejected. The muzzle must point skyward!

The proper technique in a real world speed load is much more sure:

  1. Grasp the speedloader as if you were palming it.
  2. Extend the fingers to the end of the cartridges.
  3. Guide them into the cylinder (I guarantee you the speedloader will be dropped if you are in a critical incident and attempt to hold it with two shaking fingers).
  4. Grasp the speedloader with the fingers controlling the cartridges.
  5. Press with the whole hand.
  6. Twist the knob after the cartridges are well into the cylinder.
  7. Keep the muzzle of the revolver oriented toward the ground. The speedloader will fall away as the cylinder is closed.
  8. Do not practice being gentle with the speedloader or it will slow you down in the real world.
Focus on a navy jacket that is torn where the revolver was fired into a grassy area.
In a defensive situation, you can fire multiple rounds from a revolver through a coat pocket. Revolvers without an exposed hammer work best, but by covering an exposed hammer with your thumb also works.

Teaching Moment

Many have mentioned that an advantage of the revolver is carrying it in a coat pocket. The light revolver such as a Taurus CIA .357—one of my favorites, loaded with the Hornady Critical Defense load—is light enough and well balanced. If you must fire quickly then you can shoot the bottom out of the pocket and connect with the bad guy. You should practice very carefully. Draw the weak hand away as you bring the gun hand up and fire.

It might be a good idea to visit the local Goodwill and purchase a $4 jacket—just saying. The tweed coat will suffer otherwise.  A shrouded hammer is required, although by keeping the thumb over an exposed hammer you can usually perform this drill.

Have any stories to share about speedloading your favorite revolver? Share them in the comments below.


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 (4)

  1. Well, I had wanted Speedloaders for most of the years I’ve had that Colt, and just got around to getting them last year. Over the years I had a S&W Military/Police, I think it was called. The predacessor to the Model 10. Mine was nichol plated, 4″, with fixed half moon sights. It had the large checkered S&W grips, and lived in a dark tan Bianchi basket weave holster. DAMN, why did I get rid of that gun? It would have been interesting to see how Speedloaders worked in that gun, but most of my experience has been with single action revolvers, so I’m very curious to know if anyone else has, or did have this same issue, and with which model gun.

  2. I just bought some speed loaders for my revolver, so I am anxious to try out these techniques. Thanks for sharing your experience with the rest of us.

  3. My 1917 M&P works the same as Bill from Boomhower described. If I try to fully insert the rounds the loader is hopelessly jammed.

  4. Hey Bob, thanks for your service, and all the books you’ve written look very interesting, it makes me want to have a copy of each. I’ve been primarily a bolt action hunter, and revolver man for thirty five plus years, but in the last year or so, have gravitated toward an AK, a Girsan 1911, and two Springfield XDs handguns, just for home defense and personal conceal carry. However, in late summer of ’88 I bought a new Colt Agent. Probably in stock at the gun store since ’86. I kept it original until a couple of years ago, when I finally replaced the small walnut ‘D’ frame grips with a set of Pachmayr rubber grips (model CD-C). Big improvement in comfort, Hell it felt like a whole new gun. Then, I purchased two HKS speedloaders (Sportsman’s Guide Stock No. A4A-3079). They have (DS) stamped on the end of the knob, I presume for Detective Special…….I lost the original packaging. Anyway, when using the speedloaders, they tend to bind up without fully releasing, unless I only get the rounds started less than halfway in, then twist and jiggle the loader by the knob very aggressively. It’s never a consistant manuver, and you have to consciously do it the same way every time. Kind of like spinning a jack, or top. These are 158gr round nose handloads, nothing hot, just a couple grains of Unique, and normal seating depth. It just seems like the cylinder ought to swing out just a tiny bit farther. I haven’t tried putting the stock grips back on, but the Pachmayrs don’t seem to be an issue, they’re close, but never touch the shells, or loader. Have you had similar experience with any revolvers, or loaders? Are the Agents and Detective Specials just that way? I really still like the little gun, I just wish Crimson Trace would offer a set of laser grips for it. I also think occasionally about bobbing the hammer. Thanks again.

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