» QUESTION: As a new convert to the shooting and personal defense fraternity, I’m in the process of buying my first handgun. I know one size or type of handgun won’t fill every niche perfectly, but I have to start somewhere. Semi-automatics seem overly complicated, even though that is what my friends recommend I get. Revolvers, on the other hand, are fairly simple for me to operate, which is an attractive attribute. I’m looking for versatility and reliability as well as something that I can learn to shoot relatively well before I make a decision as to what is next in the way of a handgun. What can you tell me about a revolver that will help to validate my thinking that I should start with what many of my friends refer to as a “wheelgun”?
» ANSWER: When it comes to the purchase of any gun, safety should be at the top of the list. Two simple and basic tenets apply to all firearms regardless of type: muzzle management and trigger finger discipline. Keeping those two principles at the forefront of your consciousness when handling a firearm will afford you safety and success. In short, safety is not shooting anything that you didn’t intend to shoot, and success is hitting what you want, when you want.
Like you said, a revolver is about as simple and easy to use as it gets in the arena of handguns.
As you might or might not know, there are several different categories of revolvers. Some are more versatile than others.
For example, a single-action (SA) revolver — one that requires the shooter to thumb-cock the hammer for each shot to be fired — is robust and reliable but extremely slow to reload because the chambers must be loaded and unloaded one at a time. In a hunting, target shooting or competitive event — specifically for revolvers of this type (such as Cowboy Action Shooting) — the need for a rapid reload isn’t a big factor. Accuracy in a quality SA revolver is, more often than not, good to excellent and will exceed the capabilities of the shooter. Single-actions can be found chambered in cartridges ranging from .22 Long Rifle to .454 Casull and larger in some limited-production handguns. These options give a person a broad spectrum of calibers from which to choose.
When time is of the essence and absolute pinpoint accuracy isn’t required, the double-action option of simply pulling the trigger to fire the gun is a valuable asset.
All of these features are attractive for most applications, with the exception of personal defense. While a SA can certainly be used for personal defense, there are better options available in the different types of revolvers.
The double-action/single-action (DA/SA) revolver has two options for trigger operation as opposed to the SA, which only has one. As with the SA, the hammer can be thumbcocked to fire the gun, but unlike the SA, the trigger can simply be pulled to cock and release the hammer to fire the gun. When time is of the essence and absolute pinpoint accuracy isn’t required, the double-action option of simply pulling the trigger to fire the gun is a valuable asset.
This type of trigger action lends itself more to a personal-defense scenario, whether it involves animals that will eat you or humans in close proximity with intent on doing you harm. Just the difference in trigger operation gives the advantage in versatility to the double-action/single-action revolver.
Another distinct advantage of the DA/SA revolver over the SA revolver is how it is loaded and unloaded. The cylinder of the modern, quality double-action/single-action revolver pivots out of the frame, simultaneously exposing all of the chambers for loading and unloading. This facilitates removing all of the spent cartridges at the same time and, with the aid of a speedloader, recharging all of the chambers at once. Speed is the economy of motion, making this method of loading and unloading significantly superior to the one-at-a-time method required by the single-action revolvers.
Learning proper handling of a handgun lends itself to safety, success and confidence in its use.
One other distinctive group of revolvers that merits mention is the double-action-only (DAO) category. By definition, this means that the only option of firing the revolver is pulling the trigger to cock and release the hammer for each shot. Revolvers in this category tend to be used for personal defense or competitive shooting. On such guns, there is no hammer or hammer spur visible, and this is a visual indicator as to what type of trigger the revolver has. The cylinders open and close identically to the double-action/single-action revolvers, which makes loading and unloading as easy as it gets when it comes to revolvers. These guns are the simplest of the simple when it comes to repeating handguns.
Learning proper handling of a handgun lends itself to safety, success and confidence in its use. The simplicity of handling a revolver is significantly less complicated than a semi-automatic pistol (as covered in the preceding paragraphs). For your stated purposes, the trigger, cylinder release and ejector rod are the mechanisms of interest when handling a revolver. The cylinder release allows opening the cylinder to load and unload the revolver. The ejector rod, which extends in front of the cylinder, clears the chambers of the cylinder of fired cartridge cases when depressed. The trigger facilitates firing the revolver. That’s about as simple as it gets.
I like to recommend adjustable sights on a revolver because of the variety of ammunition options that can be used in a revolver, which makes it much more versatile than a semi-automatic pistol.
For instance, a revolver chambered in .357 Magnum can also fire lower-powered .38 Special ammunition for practice and recreation but has the capability of firing the more powerful magnum ammunition when needed with no changes to the gun. This is opposed to the semi-automatic pistol, which is limited to one type of ammunition in a specific power range to ensure operation of the gun. To be fair, some semi-automatics can function with alternate cartridges and different levels of power but require spring or parts changes to be able to do so.
In either case, varying the power of the ammunition usually causes impact changes in windage and/or elevation on the target, which are corrected to the desired point of impact by the use of adjustable sights.
Maintenance of your firearm is an important issue to consider, much like any other item that you own intended for long-term usage. Cleaning and lubrication are important factors in maintaining any tool of value.
One of the more important contributing factors to successful defensive shooting is fitting the gun to the shooter’s hand.
With the revolver, cleaning is as simple as unloading the gun, brushing out the barrel and chambers with a proper fitting bore brush (using solvent to help break up the fouling) and wiping any other firing residue from the exposed surfaces with cleaning patches or a cloth.
Lubrication is designed to reduce friction and protect exposed surfaces from deterioration due to environmental or other factors. With the revolver, it’s as simple as applying a light coat of lubricant — enough so you can see it and feel it — to the moving parts where friction is likely to occur and an overall wipe-down with a protective cloth to finish the job.
To perform a similar task on a semi-automatic, partial disassembly, often referred to as field stripping, is required, along with a little more attention to detail in the areas requiring cleaning and lubrication.
One of the more important contributing factors to successful defensive shooting is fitting the gun to the shooter’s hand so that it acts as an extension of the hand when pointing the gun at the target. The advantage to the revolver is that there are many different grips available that can be purchased to achieve that ideal fit for your hands.
While this is true with semi-automatics as well, the size of the grips for these guns has to take into account the size of the ammunition and magazine; therefore, they are not as flexible as revolvers in the variety of sizes to fit the hand of the shooter.
For a person in your situation who is just getting started in the realm of handguns, wanting something simple, reliable and versatile, we recommend to our students a stainless steel, medium-frame (weighing in the neighborhood of 2 pounds), 4-inch barrel .357 Magnum revolver. Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Dan Wesson and Taurus, among others, make or have made products that fit in this category.
They all meet the criterion of what you need to get started, so it’s just a matter of finding one of these that feels good in the hand and fits your financial situation to start your new adventure.
Take the time to read and understand the owner’s manual and get some training in the use of your new acquisition. Your progress will be greatly accelerated if you do!