Unless you expressly prohibit revolvers in your personal-defense handgun classes, one will invariably show up. A seasoned instructor should be able to integrate revolver instruction alongside lessons for semi-automatic shooters.

Start by briefly discussing the differences between and similarities of revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. Address the nomenclature of the dissimilar as well as common parts for both types of guns. Demonstrate how both systems operate and discuss safe and effective handling procedures.

Common Ground

Both types of handguns have muzzles which must be pointed at the target when fired. Both utilize similar sets of sights. Both have somewhat similar trigger-press requirements. You can teach the techniques of marksmanship, stance, sight alignment, sight picture and trigger control for both types in a like manner.

Certain differences do stand out though, such as revolvers — especially those manufactured of rust-resistant stainless steel — being generally simpler to operate and easier to maintain than semi-automatic pistols. However, a revolver has a lower ammunition capacity when compared to a similar-sized semi-auto.


Instead of drawing fresh rounds of ammunition from a removable magazine like a semi-auto does, the revolver uses an integral cylinder. But as with semi-automatics, revolver manufacturers often use differing names to describe identical parts or mechanisms. For example, what some makers label as a “cylinder release” is a “crane latch” in another brand’s vernacular. This would be comparable to a magazine release/catch button or lever in a semi-automatic pistol. In teaching specific terms, guide the students to relate the name of the part to the action it performs. In my opinion, “cylinder release” makes a bit more sense and doesn’t leave much room for ambiguity. Upon actuation, the cylinder is released to rotate out of the frame.

The naming of the cylinder release varies between the three leading brands of revolvers, while some of the lesser-known brands follow each of the leading brands. To access the cylinder on a Smith & Wesson revolver, push the cylinder release forward. Alternatively, pulling back on a Colt cylinder release will activate the mechanism. A Ruger cylinder release — or “crane latch,” as the company calls it — is activated by pushing it inward. Developing an understanding with your students as to what terminology to apply to the various parts makes it easier to get into the depth and detail of how those parts work.

Accessing the Cylinder

Operating the cylinder release on a revolver allows the cylinder to swing out of the frame by pushing it right to left, with the muzzle of the gun pointed away from the shooter. This exposes five, six or more chambers, sometimes called “charge holes.” The number of chambers in the cylinder determines the revolver’s ammunition capacity. A spring-loaded ejector rod protrudes from the front of the cylinder. When pressure is applied to the tip of the ejector rod, the extractor — located at the center of the cylinder — ejects the cartridges from the chambers.

Reload Options

Shooters employ several methods for loading ammunition into the chambers. The simplest method is to fill each chamber one at a time. This is effective but slow since each round must be handled separately. With practice, a speed strip — a narrow synthetic unit that holds six, or sometimes up to eight, cartridges in line — may be used to load two cartridges at a time. A speed strip is a convenient way to carry spare ammunition when compared to transporting it loose in a pouch or pocket.

A third and very popular way to carry spare ammunition is the speedloader, which carries a full complement of ammunition and enables the cylinder’s chambers to be filled all at once. It should be noted that speedloaders must match the configuration, caliber and capacity of the intended revolver. Also, different speedloaders may require different manipulation to release the cartridges. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the twist, push and peel types of speedloaders in order to best instruct your students in their easiest and most efficient use.

Simple, But Rigid

QUALITY HANDIWORK: Proper revolver manipulation, including how to best position it for reloading, is essential for success.

QUALITY HANDIWORK: Proper revolver manipulation, including how to best position it for reloading, is essential for success.

A revolver’s simplicity produces few variables in loading, unloading, firing and reloading. This inflexibility can be beneficial for some shooters and limiting for others. Revolvers only open one way and close one way, so shooters have to adapt to how their guns operate.

For a right-handed shooter, a reliable method of loading and unloading starts by operating the cylinder release with the thumb of the shooting hand and cupping the revolver in the non-shooting hand. Use the middle and ring fingers of the support hand to push the cylinder out of the frame. To unload the revolver, elevate the muzzle skyward and firmly depress the ejector rod with the support-side thumb to extract the spent or unfired cartridges.

Once the cartridges are clear of the cylinder, rotate the muzzle toward the ground to position the cylinder to receive fresh rounds. Gravity will help the shooting hand feed ammunition into the cylinder. Once the ammo is seated, close the cylinder using the thumb of the left hand and reacquire a shooting grip.

For a left-handed shooter, the process is similar but uses different digits to accomplish the task. The index finger of the shooting hand actuates the cylinder release while the revolver is cupped in the non-shooting hand. Use the support-side thumb to push open the cylinder. The index finger of the holding hand operates the ejector rod, with the muzzle pointing upward to clear the chambers.

Once the chambers are clear, rotate the muzzle toward the ground. This positions the cylinder to receive fresh ammunition or for visual inspection to verify the gun is clear and empty. Close the cylinder with the middle two fingers of the right hand as the shooting grip is reacquired.

It’s a Matter of Personal Choice

As a shooter evolves, he or she may find that a revolver fits his or her specific preferences or needs. Conversely, his or her skill and experience may drive him or her to carry a semi-auto. Some will carry both, which means they should train to be proficient with both as they progress in their skill development.

What I have covered are starting points and a method of how to teach revolver-equipped students. Practice these techniques to develop a solid foundation in handling and shooting revolvers.

As instructors, we have to adapt to the needs of our students and what works best for them. We all learn and improve together as instructors and as students through practice and training — both collectively and individually.