- Revolver Philosophies
- How A Revolver Works
- Revolver Safety
- How To Shoot a Revolver
- How To Reload A Double-Action Revolver
- Parts of a Revolver
- Double Action Only (DAO) vs. Double Action/Single Action (DA/SA)
- Tier One Gear
- Substandard Revolvers
- Introduction To Pocket Size “Snubnose” Revolvers
- Caliber Choices For Pocket-Size Revolvers
- Ammunition for Pocket Size “Snubnose” Revolvers
- Snubnose Training & Practice
- Snubnose Revolver Carry & Concealment
- Recommendations For Pocket Size Revolvers
- Mid-Size Revolvers
- Large Magnum Revolvers
- Ammunition For Full-Size and Magnum Revolvers
- Shotshell Revolvers
Revolvers are generally easy to learn to operate, and are good entry-level weapon to learn self-defense with. They are generally not finicky with the type of ammunition they will shoot. When properly maintained they are very reliable. They usually only hold from five to seven rounds of ammunition.
How A Revolver Works:
Double Action Only (DAO) vs. Double Action/Single Action (DA/SA):
How To Shoot a Revolver:
How To Reload A Double-Action Revolver:
Parts of a Revolver:
Even if it isn’t fired, your revolver will require routine maintenance as it will be in close contact to body moisture and pocket lint. Keep your revolver clean by scrubbing with a toothbrush, gun oil, and cloth. Run a couple of oily patches through the barrel and cylinder. Wipe it completely dry, especially inside the individual chambers of the cylinder where the ammunition will be loaded. Excessive lubrication can penetrate and compromise the primers and power of ammunition.
Many people have the misconception that revolvers are less complex mechanisms than semi-automatic firearms. Revolvers have complex timing mechanisms that can be damaged if manipulated by unqualified personnel (this means you). Avoid the temptation of removing the side-plate and exposing the internals. First, there is a trick to removing a Smith & Wesson side-plate without damaging it. Second, there is no reason that you should disturb the internals. Leave the cover on.
Internals of revolvers should be dry. Avoid the temptation of squirting lubrication into the internal mechanism of the revolver.
I carry a J-frame S&W revolver on a daily basis. I give the external surfaces a wipe-down at least once a month. Every twelve months I have a qualified gunsmith open the revolver and give it a quick detailing and inspection.
Tier One Revolvers:
Taurus brand revolvers = JUNK.
- Taurus, Rossi Snubbies Get ‘F’ Grades—Unless You’re Handy
- They look similar to the Smith & Wesson, but while less expensive, their quality is not as high either. On many of the internet shooting forums they have developed a horrible customer service reputation.
Charter Arms brand revolvers = JUNK.
Rossi brand revolvers = JUNK.
Introduction To Pocket-Size “Snubnose” Revolvers:
- Snubnose Files: Snubby History, Tech, Tactics, and Accessories
- Snubnose Files: The Theory of the Snubnose
- Snubnose Files: The Revolver as a CCW Gun
The first rule of a gunfight is, “bring a gun.” There are situations where you really don’t think that you will need to carry a pistol, but you subscribe to the theory, “better safe than sorry” (example: I’m going to the movies with the wife and don’t expect any trouble, but I realize that shit happens). There also may be situations, such as while operating in a law enforcement capacity, that requires you to carry a compact backup weapon just in case your primary weapon breaks, or is lost in a melee. A compact pocket pistol or revolver fills the requirement in both scenarios, without adding any more weight or inconvenience than carrying an extra wallet.
The pros of light weight revolvers are that they are extremely easy to carry and conceal, ultra reliable, and if a respectable caliber, pack a punch on the receiving end. The cons are that with the combination of a light weight frame, short barrel, and moderately large size ammunition, these little revolvers snappy in your hand when fired. Recoil, paired up with the short sight base from the 1.78″ barrel, requires quite a bit of practice to learn to shoot accurately. Any pocket pistol is intended for concealment and close range shooting, but maintaining the skills to shoot it accurately past five to ten yards requires regular practice. Also note that these revolvers only hold five rounds of ammunitions, so fast reloading skills are important to master.
These small and lightweight revolvers are extremely easy to carry and conceal and probably are the gun that you will find yourself carrying the most, however they are some of the hardest firearms to master and truly become combat effective with. Practice! Practice! Practice!
Caliber Choices For Pocket-Size Revolvers:
Generally speaking I am not a big fan of the new pocket-size .380 caliber semi-auto pistols on the market. Needless to say, .22LR, 25, and 32 autos are even more anemic and less desirable for serious self-defense use. Of course they are better than nothing, and while they barely satisfy the first rule of a gunfight… “bring a gun”, they fail to meet rule number two… “bring enough gun”. I would rather carry an extremely light weight .38 Special caliber revolver.
I do not recommend the .357 Magnum version of the “Airweight” guns, however if you insist, make sure that you shoot .38 Specials out of it. Believe me…the .38 Specials are punishing enough to shoot. Firing a .357 Magnum out of a super light gun with a short barrel yields unnecessary self-abuse with only moderate, if any, ballistic gains on the target. If you must shoot .357 Magnums, do not shoot light weight bullets (110 grain). With the tremendous recoil the other bullets in the cylinder can come unseated from their casings. They can actually move forward enough to keep the cylinder from turning, thus jamming up the gun.
Compact revolvers can be bought in smaller calibers such as .22LR, .32, and the new .327 Magnum. If you have physical problems that would limit you from shooting a pistol with any significant recoil, then you could make do with the smaller calibers. If you can handle the impulse from the .38 Special, then you should not settle for the decrease in terminal performance that you get with the smaller calibers. Bottom line: rule number two of a gunfight: “bring enough gun”. The snub nose .38 Special barely meets the “bring enough gun” requirement. Anything less than .38 Special doesn’t meet the requirement.
Ammunition for Pocket Size (Snubnose) Revolvers:
It matters what kind of ammo you shoot out of these guns:
Generally speaking, full-size .38 Special revolvers with 4″ barrels and fixed sights are calibrated for 158-grain ammunition, however with snubnose revolvers you may find that heavier (158-grain) ammunition shoots high, and lighter (110-grain) ammunition shoots low. Also, heavier bullets may not always reach enough velocity to fully mushroom in the target when fired from a short barrel revolver. Most snubnose .38 Special revolvers shoot best with 110 to 135 grain ammunition, both in terms of accuracy, and with terminal performance.
Speer Gold Dot .38 Special +P 135 Grain Short Barrel Ammunition:
Per request by the FBI, Speer has developed a 135 grain 38 Special +P cartridge in their “Gold Dot” line specifically for snubnose revolvers. The cartridge’s design allows proper expansion at snubnose reduced velocities without sacrificing tactical penetration. This ammunition shoots reliably and accurately from my Smith & Wesson 642. Use it.
+P Ammunition In Older Firearms:
Pocket-Size Revolver Training & Practice:
- Snubnose Files: Making the J-Frame .38 Snub Work
- Snubnose Files: Practice Drills for the Defensive Snubnose
The videos below are great demonstrations of how you might quickly break contact with assailants in a parking lot or other close confines situation. This guy isn’t just blasting away indiscriminately. He is rapidly putting rounds on target as he egresses the danger area. This skill level will take a lot of practice to achieve. Weapon is a Ruger LCR chambered in .357 Magnum.
Pocket-Size Revolver Carry & Concealment:
Like other handguns there are many ways that you can carry your snubnose revolver, including in a belt holster, in an inside the waistband holster, and in an ankle holster. The discussion of different methods of carry is outside the scope of this particular blog, but I would like to make note of how I carry 99.9% of the time: pocket carry.
It is possible to simply carry the revolver in pocket of your trousers or jacket, however it is not recommended. Carrying your revolver in a holster intended for pocket carry will hide the outline of the gun in your pocket, protect the trigger, help keep the revolver free of lint and other pocket matter, protect the revolver from body sweat, and most importantly, keep the revolver oriented upright for quick access.
Pocket holsters are primarily made from leather or Nylon and Neoprene. Leather pocket holsters are usually manufactured so that the rough side of the leather is on the outside and the smooth is on the inside. When you draw the pistol from your pocket the rough side of the leather should help the holster adhere to the inside of your pocket, and the smooth side will facilitate an easy exit of the revolver. There are several brands of pocket holsters made from synthetic materials. Many times the holster’s exterior will be made from Neoprene or some other type of sticky or tacky material that sticks to the inside of your pocket and help prevent the holster from pulling out of your pocket when the pistol is drawn. The interior is almost always some type of smooth Nylon.
DeSantis Nemesis Pocket Holster:
Shown right is the S&W 642 in the DeSantis Nemesis pocket holster. It is smooth on the inside so that the revolver will easily slide out. The outside of the holster is a sticky or tacky Neoprene like material that sticks to the inside of your pocket so that it will stay in and not come out when the pistol is drawn. Although thin and lightweight, it still works great at hiding the outline of the gun through your pocket.
Recommendations For Pocket-Size Revolvers:
Smith & Wesson and Ruger are going to be your highest quality manufactures. Stick to these brands and you won’t be disappointed. Avoid other brands, such as Taurus and Charter Arms.
Choose a hammerless or shrouded hammer model. Avoid models with exposed hammers if you plan on pocket carry.
Avoid models with internal safety locking mechanisms, such as seen on late-model Smith & Wesson products.
.38 Special is going to be your best caliber choice. Calibers smaller than .38 Special are only recommended if you can’t handle the recoil of the .38 Special due to physical limitations.
For defensive carry, Speer’s Gold Dot, .38 caliber, 135-grain +P hollow-point ammunition is specifically made for snubnose revolvers and is considered the “gold standard”. It is your responsibility to verify that it shoots reliably and accurately from your firearm.
Keep the external surfaces of the revolver clean. Do not open the side-plate to expose the internals of the revolver. Once a year let a qualified gunsmith perform routine maintenance of the internals.
Practice dry-firing as much as possible so as to learn the trigger. When dry-fire practicing always use Snap-Caps, especially with Smith & Wesson revolvers. You can break the internal parts if you don’t.
Frequently practice drawing and reloading. Use your Snap-Caps rather than live ammunition.
Get to the range and target practice on a regular basis.
Carry your revolver all of the time. Carry at least one reload, whether a speed-loader or speed strip.
Large Magnum Revolvers:
The two most popular “WalMart” Magnum calibers are .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum.
The two most popular weights of .357 Magnum ammunition are 125 grain and 158 grain. The 125 grain .357 Magnum semi-jacketed hollow-point is considered the Gold Standard of man stopper.
If the firearm is going to be used for indoor home defense then it is recommended that you use some type of .38 Special 158 grain hollow-point. A single round from a .357 Magnum (especially a 125 grain) fired indoors without hearing protection will cause immediate disorientation, temporary (and possibly permanent) hearing damage, and temporary blindness from the flash (depending on barrel length and ammunition type). Hopefully you will have hit and incapacitated your single intruder with the first shot, however if there are multiple intruders then you may have difficulty in effectively seeing, hearing, and fighting them.
Use 125 grain ammunition sparingly in older Smith & Wesson K Frame revolvers (Models 19 & 66). The California Highway Patrol learned that the powerful 125 grain ammunition can crack the forcing cone (the part of the revolver where the bullet leaves the cylinder and enters the barrel). You can fire 158 grain .357 magnum in the old K Frame revolvers all you want. Do not worry about 125 grain ammunition in Smith & Wesson L Frame or Ruger GP-100 revolvers. They are overbuilt and can handle the full blast of the 125 grain ammunition for the rest of eternity.
Avoid lightweight, pocket size .357 Magnum revolvers. If you already have one, stick to shooting .38 Special +P ammunition.
Ammunition For Full-Size and Magnum Revolvers:
.38 special caliber revolvers can only shoot .38 special caliber ammunition, however .357 Magnum revolvers can shoot .357 Magnum ammunition, or less powerful and less expensive .38 special ammunition if needed. K-Frame and similar size .38 special caliber revolvers with four-inch barrels and fixed sites shoot closest to the point of aim using 158 grain ammunition. Lighter ammunition will shoot high.
With a four-inch barrel .38 special revolver, the statistically best ammunition to use is the classic “FBI Load” 158 grain +P semi wad cutter hollow point (+P SWCHP). It has proven to be a potent man-stopper in many police shoot-outs.
The best self-defense load in .357 Magnum is the 125-grain semi-jacketed hollow-point (SJHP). This round is extremely loud and punishing to shoot and is not recommended to be used as a self-defense load if shooting may occur indoors as permanent hearing damage may occur. The heavier and slower .357 Magnum 158-grain semi-jacketed hollow-point is also a good man-stopper, but is also loud and punishing to shoot. If you own a .357 Magnum and use it as a self-defense tool for indoors, load it with the less punishing .38 special 158-grain +P semi wad cutter hollow point.
Shotshell Revolvers: Novelty Or Serious Fighting Gear?
Smith & Wesson and Taurus both make revolvers capable of firing .410 gauge shotgun shells as well as .45 Colt and .45 ACP (in moon clips). The Smith & Wesson Governor holds six rounds of ammunition and the Taurus Judge holds five. The are both considered handguns rather than short-barreled shotguns because the barrels are rifled. If they were smooth-bore they would require the owner to register them with the BATFE and pay $200 for a tax stamp from the Treasury Department (as with machine guns and suppressors).
In my humble opinion (and I’m sure that there are many people who will disagree with me) I consider these firearms to be novelties and not serious self-defense gear. But wait?! It’s a shotgun! How can it not be a serious fighting tool? First, the .410, whether you use rifled slugs, buckshot, or birdshot, is a pathetically anemic performer out of a full barred shotgun. If you fire it out of a two to four-inch barrel you will be getting only a small fraction of what little serious stopping power that the round can offer. The shotgun rounds will only be effective at very close range. If you want to shoot any distance farther than 10 yards will have to shoot the handgun ammunition.
If I want to shoot .45 Colt or .45 ACP ammunition I’ll shoot them out of a firearm specifically made for them (and have more rounds in the firearm with most .45 ACP offerings). If I want a shotgun I’ll shoot a 12 or 20 gauge full size shotgun. Of course I don’t want to be shot with one of these revolvers, however when I’m analyzing what is going to be the most effective handgun (in terms of stopping power and cost) for me to purchase and carry, these .410 revolvers don’t add up. Please feel free to scroll down to the bottom of the page and post friendly and informative comments with any of your experience with these firearms. I’d love to hear them. You might convince me to give them another chance.