Handgun Selection Considerations
- Revolver vs. Semi-Automatic
- Handgun Weight
- Handgun Ammunition Capacity
- Handgun Durability & Reliability
- Handgun Accuracy
- Handgun Ergonomics
- Handgun Simplicity Of Operation
- Handgun Accessories
- Handgun Calibers
- Track Record
- Handgun Selection Recommendations
Handgun Tiers Of Quality
Handgun Cleaning & Maintenance
Semi-Auto Pistol Essentials
- Semi-Automatic Pistol Operation and Safety Videos
- Semi-Automatic Pistol Parts
- Full and Medium Frame Semi-Automatic
- Compact Semi-Automatic
- Pocket-Size Semi-Automatic
- Semi-Automatic Pistol Recommendations
Introduction To Revolvers
- 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 Frame Revolvers
- Large Frame Revolvers
- Ammunition Essential for Mid-Size and Large Frame Revolvers
- .38 Special
- .357 Magnum
- .44 Magnum
- Pros & Cons of Magnum Ammunition
- Shotshell Revolvers
Related Savannah Arsenal Pages
- Cornered Cat’s article on Handguns for Defense
- Throwing Lead’s article on Lessons on Pistol Shooting
Handgun Selection Considerations:
- Revolver vs. Semi-Automatic
- Ammo Capacity
- Durability & Reliability
- Track Record
Revolver vs. Semi-Automatic:
- Easy to learn to operate. Good entry-level weapon.
- Not finicky with the type of ammunition it will shoot.
- Very reliable.
- Only holds from five to seven rounds of ammunition.
- Takes a little more effort to learn to operated efficiently.
- May be finicky with the ammunition it will shoot.
- Reliable with proper ammunition and when properly maintained.
- Most carry a greater number rounds of ammunition than a revolver.
Perceived Recoil: Generally speaking, the lighter a handgun with any given caliber, the more recoil you can expect. For example, .38 Special fired from a steel frame, 4″ barrel Smith & Wesson Model 10 is a pussy cat. .38 Special fired from a snub-nose, alloy frame Smith & Wesson “Airweight” 642 is a a lot more snappy to shoot. Another example are the compact size frames of the 9mm Glock 26 and the .40 S&W caliber Glock 27. The two pistols are identical in size and weight, but the recoil from the .40 S&W is much more noticeable. The additional recoil can may cause an inexperienced shooter to anticipate the recoil and throw off the shot. It will also increase recovery time between accurate shots if the perceived recoil is too excessive.
Ease of Carry: Are you comfortable carrying the sidearm all day long without getting a backache or constantly adjusting your belt? Too heavy of a firearm will pull on your pants, and you may find yourself adjusting your holstered pistol and pulling up your pants all day.
Conclusion: A lightweight pistol may be punishing to shoot with higher powered ammunition. A heavy pistol may be more uncomfortable to carry.
Handgun Ammunition Capacity:
With a one-in-three average hit ratio, having extra rounds will go a long way when faced with multiple attackers.
When carrying a handgun with a higher magazine capacity you may find it harder to effectively conceal. When carrying a smaller handgun with a smaller magazine capacity, it may be easier to carry and conceal, but may compromise you in a shootout as you will run dry and have to reload sooner. Your best bet is to carry a pistol that holds the most rounds of ammunition and is still concealable on your body size and type, and with your preferred method of carry.
I have found the Glock’s sub-compact size G-26 to be easy to carry and conceal in an in-the-waistband holster (IWB) to be easy to carry and conceal. I can easily carry an extra 17-round G-17 magazine or two in my pocket. The mid-size frame Glock 19 provides the shooter 15+1 rounds before they have to reload.
Conclusion: Carry a pistol that fires the most number of rounds before needing to be reloaded that you can effectively carry conceal.
Handgun Durability & Reliability:
You want a self-defense weapon with solid construction and mechanical reliability. The last thing you want is for your gun to jam in a firefight. Don’t gamble. Buy a firearm that is already in wide use by law-enforcement and the military (Glock, Beretta, Sig, etc.). Let the world’s cops be your guinne pigs. If their firearms weren’t durable and reliable they wouldn’t still be buying them. As many pistols as they buy, and as many millions that they fire, if there were to be a design flaw, it would quickly become apparent. If you buy a lesser known brand or model then you are on your own for testing and evaluation.
Conclusion: You will be well served by a Beretta, Glock, Sig Sauer, or Smith & Wesson product.
Most of the popular firearms employed by military and law enforcement (Glock, Beretta, Sig, etc.) will be more than accurate enough for self-defense work. With regular practice you will consistently be able to make rapid hits on a paper plate size target (human heart and lungs size target) at 10 to 15 yards, which is considered to be combat effective for a handgun. With lots of practice you can make carefully aimed hits on a man-size target at 100 yards (try it!).
Conclusion: You don’t need an overpriced, accurized target pistol to defend yourself. An out-of-the-box law enforcement grade pistol will be more than adequate to defend yourself with.
People have different size hands, and some people have more hand strength than others. Some handguns are better for those with larger hands.
Occasionally I will see police officers carrying full-size department issue .45 ACP caliber Glock 21 pistols. The Glock 21 is a fist full of a whole lot of firepower, but it has a fat grip to hold all of those ashtray size .45 ACP rounds. I sometimes question the judgement of the police officials in charge of procurement when they buy pistols that may end up being employed by smaller frame officers, such as most females. The larger, fatter pistols may be problematic to efficiently grip and manipulate the magazine release and slide lock. With the example of Glock pistols, a 9mm or .40 S&W pistol might be more manageable for someone with smaller hands.
When deciding on what pistol might be the most ergonomic for you, ask yourself these questions:
- Can you function the safe, magazine release, and trigger with one hand and without adjusting your grip?
- Can you get a firm grip right out of the holster? (Under duress there is no time to adjust your grip.)
Conclusion: Make sure that the handgun that you choose is ergonomic for your hands and body type. Try some of your buddy’s handguns at the range, or rent several makes and models the next time that you are at an indoor range. See what fits and what works for you.
Handgun Simplicity Of Operation:
- Savannah Arsenal’s Ammunition Essentials
- Throwing Lead’s article on Common Handgun Calibers
- Throwing Lead’s article An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power
- Personal Defense Magazine’s article on Carry Ammo
Handgun Caliber Considerations:
Acceptable Defensive Calibers:
- Revolver: .38 Special, .357 Magnum
- Semi-Automatic: 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP
Ease of Procurement:
.380, 9mm, .40 S&W, and 45 ACP are your most popular calibers for semi-automatic handguns. .38 Special and .357 Magnum are your most popular calibers for revolvers. By “popular” I mean that you will most always be able to find these calibers of ammunition at Wall-Mart or gun-friendly sporting goods store (unless there is a shortage due to the public’s occasional fear of registration and confiscation), and in a post SHTF scenario it is the ammunition that you will most likely liberate from other sources. Choose a weapon that is easy to feed.
Calibers such as .357 Sig (used by the US Secret Service) .38 Super, 10 mm, 45 GAP, etc. are not in what I would categorize as popular, and because they can not always be easily procured at Wall-Mart, I do not consider them practical (because of lack of ease of procurement) as self-defense / stockpiling calibers. I’m sure I’ll catch hell from someone who disagrees with me!
Within the realm of acceptable defensive calibers the traditional thinking has always been that the .45 ACP or .357 Magnum calibers make bigger wound cavities than smaller calibers, but you had to ask yourself if you could handle the heavy recoil. Ammunition technology has come a long way. With today’s ammunition, 9mm is statistically just as an effective man-stopper as a .45 ACP or .357 Magnum, but at a fraction of recoil. It is better to choose a caliber that you can control and shoot accurately and rapidly. If you prefer to carry and can effectively shoot the larger calibers, then by all means do so. If not, you will still be equally served by a 9mm with the added benefit of less recoil and more ammunition capacity in any given handgun size.
Generally, the larger the caliber the larger of the pistol or revolver, the larger the firearm. Too big of a firearm may hinder controllability, concealability, and ergonomics for the shooter. Sure I’d rather have Mom use a caliber with some respectable knockdown power, but what if she’s intimidated by the larger calibers, physically not able to handle the recoil, and not able to get rapid and accurate fire on target? I’d rather her have a good dependable .22LR or .22 Magnum revolver that I know she can successfully use.
Try (rent at an indoor range) several different calibers of firearms and see what is the largest caliber that you are comfortable shooting. Choose a pistol in that caliber that is comfortable and concealable.
.38 Special ammunition is a rimmed, centerfire cartridge with a history dating back to the end of the 19th Century. A common caliber for revolver shooters, 38 Special was once the standard caliber for American police departments as well as soldiers in the first World War.
.357 Magnum ammunition travels anywhere between 1,200 feet per second and 1,600 feet per second with bullet weights ranging about 125 grain to 200 grain. Of course, the lighter the bullet the faster the muzzle velocity.
Today, you’ll find handguns chambered in .357 magnum as both pistols and revolvers. Although, many of the pistols can be quite a handful when it comes to recoil. Additionally, there are even a few carbines on the market chambered for use with .357 mag, a nod to the round’s brute power.
.38 special caliber revolvers can only shoot .38 special caliber ammunition, however .357 Magnum revolvers can shoot .357 Magnum ammunition as well as less powerful and less expensive .38 special ammunition if needed.
Also referred to as “9×19”, “9mm Luger”, and “9mm NATO”. 9mm ammo is the most popular handgun cartridge in the world and has a history dating back to the German Empire in 1902 where the round was developed by a man named Georg Luger. The FBI is returning to the 9mm after years of using .40 S&W.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Smith and Wesson, and Winchester designed .40 caliber ammunition to be a law enforcement cartridge and potential replacement of larger 10mm round. Loaded to relatively high pressure and small enough to allow many rounds to be comfortably carried, the .40 S&W round is a great round for self-defense and a popular choice among law enforcement today.
The FBI currently uses .40 S&W but has announced that it is returning to 9mm for their sidearms. Watch for many law enforcement agencies to follow the trend.
The US Customs & Border Protection uses .40 S&W Winchester Ranger 135-grain JHP.
The Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO… armed airline pilots) program uses .40 S&W.
.45 ACP, or 45 automatic colt pistol, might be the most effective combat ammunition ever made. Known for accuracy and stopping power, John Browning developed 45 auto rounds in 1904 for the U.S. Cavalry before the caliber was adopted for the Colt 1911. Many military and law enforcement units still rely on 45 ACP ammo today to protect communities and nations all over the world.
The 9mm vs .40 S&W vs .45 ACP Caliber Debate:
For decades there has been an ongoing debate as to whether 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP is the best fight stopper. With advances in bullet technology, when using a modern hollow-point bullet, there really isn’t any significant ballistic advantage of using a the larger .45 ACP or .40 S&W over 9mm. With 9mm you will have the advantage of more magazine capacity, and less felt recoil than with the higher calibers.
Are you planning getting a Concealed Carry Permit and legally carrying your handgun? You might want the giant hand cannon, but can you carry it concealed? You will need an appropriate size firearm for your body type and the way that you will carry it.
Make sure that you have the correct holster to keep the firearm out of sight, secured and accessible? How about automobile storage?
If you choose one of the more popular makes and models of pistols or revolvers there will be a wide variety of carry methods available.
Buying a sidearm for personal protection is one of those important choices that you do not want to go with the cheapest option.
While you don’t want to go with a cheap firearm, you don’t have to necessarily go with the most expensive either. You can buy two reliable handguns for the price of one handcrafted fancy and expensive model. While under duress you probably can’t shoot any more accurately with the more expensive handguns than you can a lesser priced reliable model.
There are many, many makes and models of handguns. A great number are cheaply made and are not dependable. A few are serious, high quality fighting tools. I do not have the money or time to experiment and find out what works and what is junk. There are countless military units and police departments around the world that fire millions of rounds of ammunition a year through their handguns, both in training and in actual combat. The weapons are going to be used in various climates by people who may not necessarily maintain their weapons as well as they should. I like the idea of using these guys as my gun testers. If a particular make and model is going to break, they are going to make it happen. This being said, just a few makes of handguns have what it takes to be used by professionals around the world. A few makes and models have what it takes to bring you back from the brink. The rest are not worth the risk.
Handgun Selection Conclusion:
You will want to choose a pistol that:
- Light enough to carry and conceal, but not so light for its caliber that it is difficult to effectively shoot with.
- Carries as much ammunition as possible that still allows the pistol to be effectively carry and concealed on your body size and frame.
- Is durable, reliable, and will go bang every time that you pull the trigger.
- Is accurate enough for self defense.
- Is the appropriate size for your hand so that you can easily draw and operate the controls of the handgun without shifting your grip.
- Simple to operate, and to disassemble and maintain.
- Has a wide variety of accessories (holsters, lights, spare parts, etc.) available.
- Is an appropriate self-defense caliber (9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, .38 Special, and .357 Magnum).
- Is easily concealed on your body type.
- After receiving proper training and instruction, and after plenty of practice, easy for the shooter to make rapid and accurate shots.
- Affordable, but not cheap.
- Has an track record of being accurate and dependable.
Handgun Selection Recommendations:
Based on the criteria above:
Glock 19 (9mm, 15+1 rounds). Glock’s mid-size frame. Easy to conceal, or wear on duty or combat gear. Used by thousands of police departments around the world. Now being employed by the US Navy SEALS.
Glock 26 (9mm, 10+1 rounds, 12+1 round magazines available). Glock’s sub-compact size frame. Very easy to conceal. Same operation and internal parts as the Glock 19, but with a shorter frame, barrel, and grip. Can use the larger capacity magazines from the Glock 17 (17-rounds) and the Glock 19 (15-rounds), although they will hang out of the bottom of the grip. The G-26 9mm version is much easier to shoot and control than its .40 S&W twin, the G-27.
Smith & Wesson M&P-9 (9mm, 15+1 rounds). S&W’s full-size frame. Easy to conceal for large frame people, but might be more problematic to conceal for medium or small frame shooters. Used by thousands of police departments around the USA.
Smith & Wesson M&P-9 Compact (9mm, 10+1 rounds). S&W’s medium size frame. Same operation and internal parts as the full size, but with a a shorter frame, barrel, and grip. Much easier to conceal than the full size. Able to use the magazines from the full-size frame, although they will hang out of the bottom of the grip.
Smith & Wesson M&P Shield (9mm, 7+1 or 8+1). This is the single-stack magazine version of the M&P line of pistols. It is sold with two magazines. One holds 7 rounds, and the is a little longer and holds 8. In my opinion, the 8-round magazine is just as easy to conceal as the 7-round. The Shields are very easy to carry and conceal, and the 9mm version is very easy to shoot. It is a fantastic for small or medium frame shooters. It’s .40 S&W caliber twin is a little more snappy to shoot and may exclude the pistol from meeting the “shootability” criteria for many shooters. They Shields are fantastic pistols in terms of the criteria discussed above except that magazine capacity is the absolute lowest that I would recommend for self-defense and prepping purposes. Plan on carrying a couple of extra 8-round magazines, and practice until you are very proficient at fast reloads. The Shields are not compatible with the double-stack magazines of the full-size and compact-size M&P pistols.
Sig-Sauer P-228 (9mm, 15+1 rounds), Sig’s medium-size frame. Used by military units around the world. The M-11 version is used by aircrew members of the US military. More expensive than the Glock and S&W offerings.
All of the Glock, Smith and Wesson M&P, and Sig-Sauer offerings are fantastic pistols. If they weren’t mentioned or were intentionally excluded, then it is most likely because they didn’t meet all of the specific criteria above. The larger frames or larger calibers may work perfectly for your level of shooting experience or body type, but may be problematic for any other shooters. The smaller offerings may not meet the caliber or capacity criteria. The recommendations above are intended to provide a viable option for 99% of shooters. Your experience, opinion, and results may very. Your input is appreciated at the bottom of the page.
Tier One Handguns & Gear:
Beretta Handguns: Except for their old 8000 “Cougar” pistols (absolute junk that was an embarrassment to the company, now being manufactured and sold by Stoeger). Their M9/92/96 is used by every branch of the US military and by many law enforcement agencies. Reasonably priced. Ultra reliable with the right mags.
F.N. (Fabrique Nationale) Handguns: I haven’t fired their FNP pistols, but if they are anything like any other FN products then they are tier one gear. Certain 5.7×28 rounds used by their USG pistols are intended to be armor-piercing, however they are not necessarily good man-stoppers.
Glock Handguns: The Jeep of handguns! All of their pistols run great, but there have been a few problems with their latest “Generation 4” version. Glock has attempted to remedy the problems, but if you decide to go with Glock products, do yourself a favor and get an older 2nd or 3rd generation version. Be sure to check out more Glock stuff on Savannah Arsenal’s Semi-Automatic page.
Heckler & Koch (H&K) Handguns: Built like a HUMVEE. Used by elite military and law enforcement. Very pricey. Very high quality.
Ruger Handguns: P-80 and 90 series pistols are very reliable, as are the GP-100 revolvers. All built like a tank. Price is very affordable.
Sig Sauer: Tier one gear. Used by many government agencies, US Navy Seals, and the British SAS. The bore on the 220/226/228/229 sits a little high for me, but they are in use by some of the world’s most elite special operators and law enforcement.
Smith & Wesson: The new M&P series semi-auto pistols are taking the law-enforcement community by storm. They are slowly pushing Glock aside. This is a far cry from their past semi-auto pistol models that appeared to have been designed by a committee (ie. the 5900/6900 series). Their revolvers have always set the bar with regards to quality and craftsmanship. I have had great customer service with S&W on two occasions.
Walther: The new P99 pistols are supposed to be pretty good. A friend shot the .380 version and was not impressed though.
Kimber, Colt, Springfield, and many others make high-quality 1911 style pistols. I compare these pistols to Corvette and Ferrari. When tweaked and pampered they will offer outstanding performance. Using that analogy, there are certain environments that those type cars wouldn’t last, and a Jeep or HUMVEE will excel. While those pistols may offer great performance in the right environment, when planning for “bad times” I would choose one of the Jeep/HUMVEE type pistols. I’m sure that there are many that will disagree with me, but in my opinion, I want a gun that I will know will go bang every time I press that bang button. 1911’s require a slightly greater amount of training to learn the master of arms, can cost significantly more, and require more maintenance. They can be a lot of fun, but they are definitely not an entry-level handgun.
Mecgar brand magazines: If you need magazines, purchase either factory originals or Mecgar brand…nothing else. You have been warned. CDNN Investments always has good prices on them. Make sure that you are ordering Mecgar, because they also sell the junky magazines.
**If you don’t see it on this list, it does not necessarily meant that it isn’t good. It just means that I haven’t ever play with it or read anything about it.**
Junk Handguns & Gear:
Rossi revolvers — Complete pieces of shit.
Taurus semi-auto pistols — Cunk, (except for the venerable PT92/99 clone of the Beretta 92…for which I have shot thousands of rounds out of without a single pistol related problem.) Taurus 1911’s are junk.
Taurus revolvers — barely acceptable. Keep saving your pennies a little longer and purchase a Smith & Wesson. Customer service and support at Taurus is virtually non-existent.
Smith & Wesson “Sigma” — Pictured right. This was S&W’s first attempt at a Glock-like polymer pistol. They aren’t made anymore, but if you find a used one for sale, walk away from it. Trigger sucks. Ergonomics suck. Feel like they were designed and assembled by a Cub Scout (no offense to the Cub Scouts…).
Lorcin, Raven, Jennings, and Bryco — Low-cost pieces of shit. Inexpensive, undependable, inaccurate, and not made to take any type of abuse. If you show up to the gun range with one of these you will get laughed at. I recently witness a .380 caliber Bryco pistol keyhole (hit sideways) the target at five yards. How could this be possible?! Total hunk of poo. If you can’t afford anything nicer you will be better off doing without. Spend the money on a good knife and some food and water for your bug-out bag.
USA brand magazines — You don’t see these very much anymore. I think that the company may have gone out of business (and not a day too soon). Save your money and buy Mecgar. USA is second-rate.
National Magazines — Total junk. Like USA brand magazines, you don’t see them much anymore. If you do, walk away.
Promag Magazines — semi-reliable, but don’t trust your life to them. Save your money and buy Mecgar.
Handgun Cleaning & Maintenance:
- Throwing Lead’s article Service Pistol Maintenance: 6 Steps Can Save Your Life
- Savannah Arsenal’s Glock Cleaning & Lubrication
Semi-Automatic Operation and Safety Videos:
Semi-Automatic Pistol Parts:
Full and Mid-Size Semi-Automatics:
Compact, Double-Stack Magazine, Semi-Automatic:
During the dark years of the assault weapons ban, high-capacity magazines (those with a capacity greater than 10 rounds) were banned from being manufactured to sell to civilians. This was a ridiculous rule that both Congress and the FBI admitted did nothing to stop crime. In fact, since the demise of the rule in 2004, violent crime has in fact decreased. Prior to the ban the trend followed by firearms manufactures was to make giant semi-automatics that held a large number of rounds of ammunition. Once the ban went into effect and the manufacturers were limited to making only 10 round magazines for their large frame guns, the trend changed to manufacturing compact versions of their larger models, essentially chopping off the slide and barrel, and making the grip just long enough to hold then rounds. For civilians this meant that they could buy the same quality firearm, just in a smaller, more compact, and easier to conceal. Many law enforcement agencies chose the compact version of their issued sidearm to be used as a backup weapon.
One law enforcement agency in my home state issues their officers the full size Glock in .40 caliber to be worn on their duty belt. They issue the compact version of the same pistol to be worn on the ankle or other hidden location. The beauty of this setup is that while the officer will have the flush fitting less capacity magazine in the backup weapon, should he or she need to use the backup weapon and reload it, the backup weapon is capable of using the high-capacity magazines of its big brother. There isn’t any reason to carry an extra magazine for the baby version. If they find themselves needing to reload they use the full size magazine on their duty belts. If you need to reload, you are probably in a pretty bad situation and you will want to reload as many rounds as possible.
If I could only possess one pistol it would be either the Glock 26 (9mm) or 27 (.40 S&W). The model 26 is the compact version of the full-size model 17 and the mid-size 19. It holds ten rounds of +P rated ammunition. The Glock 27 is the exact size as the model 26, but holds nine rounds of .40 caliber ammunition. It is the compact version of the full-size Glock 22 and mid-size 23. Both pistols are relatively light, easy to conceal, carry a respectable amount of firepower for their size (the model 26 has twice that of the S&W J-frames discussed above. Both are very easy to handle are everyone is always pleasantly surprised at how accurate they are.
Pictured left is a 9mm Glock 26. They come with flush fitting ten round magazines. I have replace the butt-plate on its magazine so as to add another finger grove. This really helps with gripping the pistol, but does not take away from the ease of concealment.
This is the Glock 26 with the full-size seventeen round magazine inserted. While not very aesthetic, it is fully functional and adds more surface to hold on to when shooting. This concept works great when using a mid-size or full-size magazine in the compact size pistol, however using Glock’s 33-round 9mm or 31 round .40 caliber magazine creates serious reliability and balance problems for the little pistols. The giant magazines work great in the mid-size or full-size pistols, but not so well with the compact size pistols.
Compact, Single Stack Magazine, Semi-Automatic:
- Smith & Wesson Shield
- Ruger LC9 Pistol
- Keltec PC9 Pistol
- Glock 42/43
- Sig 230
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.
Pocket-Size “Snubnose” Revolvers:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Should You Use +P Ammunition In Snubnose Revolvers:
Here is your spoiler: YES
+P Ammunition In Older Firearms:
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.
Federal HST “Micro” .38 Special +P 130 Grain Ammunition:
Other Recommended Ammunition:
From a .38 Special pocket-size revolver you should also expect penetration within FBI standards, and excellent expansion & terminal performance from Hornady 110 gr FTX Critical Defense, Winchester 130 gr Ranger Bonded +P, Remington 125 gr Golden Saber +P.
Pocket-Size Revolver Training & Practice:
- Snubnose Files: Making the J-Frame .38 Snub Work
- Snubnose Files: Practice Drills for the Defensive Snubnose
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.
Final Recommendations For Pocket-Size Revolvers:
These type of firearms are one of the easiest to carry and conceal, yet are the hardest to obtain and maintain proficiency with.
Pros: Extremely easy to carry and conceal. Ultra reliable. If a respectable caliber, packs a punch on the receiving end.
Cons: Combination of a light weight frame, short barrel, and moderately large size ammunition, make 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
Calibers: .38 Special is probably going to be the most effective in terms of terminal performance and firearm shootability. Avoid .357 Magnum.
.357 Magnum Snubnose Revolvers: Don’t buy a .357 Magnum snubnose revolver. It will have a tremendous blast and blinding flash, and yet any ballistic advantage that .357 Magnum may provide from a longer barrel is lost with a short barrel. If you do by a .357 Magnum snubnose revolver, don’t shoot .357 Magnum ammunition. Shoot .38 Special +P ammunition instead. If you insist on shooting .357 Magnum ammunition, do shoot light weight bullets (110 grain or less). They will come apart and jam up the revolver.
Ammunition: Currently Speer’s Gold Dot 135 grain +P, and Federal’s HST “Micro” 130 grain + P jacketed hollow-points are considered state of the art ammunition, and were developed specifically for snubnose revolvers.
From a .38 Special pocket-size revolver you should also expect penetration that exceeds FBI standards, with exceptional expansion and excellent terminal performance from Hornady 110 gr FTX Critical Defense, Winchester 130 gr Ranger Bonded +P, Remington 125 gr Golden Saber +P.
You may find that heavier 158 grain ammunition will shoot higher that where you aim, and lighter 110 grain ammunition will hit lower than where you aim.
Maintenance: Clean your revolver after each practice session, and on a regular schedule when it is carried frequently. Do not squirt oil into the inner workings of the revolver as they are intended to be run dry. Do not remove the slide plate as you can easily damage the finish and the internal parts. Let a qualified gunsmith disassemble your revolver once a year for a complete detailing.
Model Choice: Choose a hammerless model, especially if you intend to pocket carry. The hammer can get snagged in your pocket, and a hammerless model will have less of an opening to collect pocket lint. Currently Smith & Wesson’s models 442 and 642, or Ruger’s LCR are going to be your best choices for hammerless snubnose revolvers in terms of quality, reputation, and product support. Stay away from Taurus, Rossi, and Charter Arms.
Carry Choices: There are many different manufacturers of quality leather or Kydex holster for belt or IWB carry, as well as leather and Neoprene holsters intended for pocket carry. Do not carry with the pistol stuck down in your pants (gangster style) or in your pocket without a pocket holster.
Training & Practice: 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.
Study: Be sure to check out Savannah Arsenal’s Snubnose page.
Mid-Size and Large Frame Revolvers:
Large Frame Revolvers:
Ammunition Essential for Mid-Size and Large Frame Revolvers:
With a four-inch barrel .38 special revolver, statistical analysis suggests that the best ammunition to use for self defense against two leg predators 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 two most popular weights of .357 Magnum ammunition are 125 grain and 158 grain. As a rule, 125 grain ammunition is faster, louder, and more powerful than 158 grain ammunition.
The 125 grain .357 Magnum semi-jacketed hollow-point is considered the Gold Standard of man stopper, however 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. It is also loud and punishing to shoot, but not quite as bad as the 125 grain Magnum ammunition.
Indoor “Home Defense” Shooting:
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.
Older Smith & Wesson Magnum Revolvers (Models 19 & 66):
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.
Pocket Size “Snubnose” Magnum Revolvers:
As stated earlier on this page, avoid lightweight, pocket size .357 Magnum revolvers. If you already have one, stick to shooting .38 Special +P ammunition.
Pros & Cons of Magnum Ammunition:
S&W Governor and Taurus Judge Shotshell Revolvers:
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.
Related Savannah Arsenal Pages:
- Ammunition Essentials
- Handgun Accessories
- Semi-Auto Essentials
- Revolver Essentials
- Gun Cleaning & Maintenance
- Gun Range & Training
- Concealed Carry
- Open Carry