In a brief article like this one, I could not possibly cover every make, model and caliber of revolver on the market today. However, I will try to give a basic overview of some of the more popular options available.
Revolvers intended for personal protection are usually small to medium frame models, holding five, six or seven rounds, depending on caliber. Barrel lengths tend to stay within the 2- to 4-inch range. However, few people today carry 4-inch, duty-sized guns as police carried before the switch to auto-pistols.
Many men and women opt for small-frame guns like the immensely popular Smith & Wesson J-frame and its many clones. Barrel lengths tend to be in the 2- to 3-inch category, holding five rounds in .38 Special and/or .357 Magnum or six rounds in .327 Federal.
Several manufacturers now offer very lightweight, polymer-frame revolvers. One caution: In .357 Magnum especially, recoil can be downright vicious. This is no issue in a life-and-death situation but using light .38 Special target loads for practice is strongly recommended!
Speaking of Caliber
Probably the most popular revolver caliber in history for self-defense is the .38 Special, followed later by its offspring, the .357 Magnum. Guns in these calibers are produced by a long list of manufacturers, many with price tags that are well within even the most modest budgets.
More recently, the .327 Federal Magnum has been offered by several manufacturers. It allows for additional rounds in the same size gun, such as the Ruger SP-101 and GP-100. While slightly smaller in caliber than the. 357, when loaded with quality ammunition it offers more than adequate power for defense.
For most four-legged threats, a .357 Magnum revolver loaded with appropriate (read: heavy-for-caliber) ammunition can easily handle a wild boar or the average black bear. Ditto for most other critters you are likely to encounter.
However, when larger bears such as grizzlies or brown bears are around, a .44 Magnum, again with proper ammo, is very effective in the hands of any reasonably competent shooter. Even so, more than a few men and women who live in bear country carry guns like a .454 Casull or .500 S&W Magnum.
Also, Ruger, Taurus, Charter Arms and S&W now offer revolvers that can handle auto-pistol rounds like 9mm, .40 S&W and even .45ACP.
But whatever caliber you choose, make sure you load only proven, quality defensive ammunition from major manufacturers that are clearly designated personal protection or self-defense.
The Ideal Carry Revolver?
Generally, I find a medium frame, six or seven-shot revolver with a 3-inch barrel to provide the best balance of power, concealability and ease of carry. Ruger’s GP-100 or S&W’s 686 are good examples, with similar models available from Taurus, Rossi and Charter Arms. Colt’s newly reborn King Cobra looks near perfect.
My personal favorite is my six-shot, fixed-sight Ruger GP-100 in .357 Magnum with a 3-inch barrel and (rare) Ruger soft rubber compact grips. It’s perfectly balanced in my hand, and I shoot it extremely well, even in rapid-fire drills.
For carry ammo, I prefer middleweight bullets. I load Hornady 140-grain FTX (polymer tip). It chronographs out of my GP-100’s 3-inch barrel at 1,375 fps and has a perfect balance between penetration and expansion.
But, hey, that’s just me. You have plenty of options. Just remember that whatever revolver you choose to carry, the most important thing you can do is to practice, practice, practice.
About John Caile
NRA Certified Instructor John Caile has more than 35 years of experience in the firearms industry, including training others in concealed carry and practical handgun shooting skills. As the communications director of the Minnesota Gun Owners Political Action Committee, he was instrumental in passing Minnesota’s landmark concealed carry permit law. John has appeared on national talk radio and network and public television and is a contributing writer for Concealed Carry Magazine. He continues his lifelong activism for gun owners and their rights in Palm Coast, Florida.