U.S.A. -(AmmoLand.com)- Before I begin to pontificate on why revolvers suck, let me substantiate my claims why adding that I both own several wheel-guns, and have carried them for nearly a decade.
You Carry Revolvers But Hate Them?
Yes and no. I certainly don’t hate revolvers, but I’m acutely aware of both their benefits and shortcomings. See, like everything in life, there’s no free lunch – and revolvers are no exception. Because revolvers are a great tool in very specific roles, but their often-vaunted title of ‘ideal first carry gun for new shooters’ is at best, questionable.
One of the biggest advantages of revolvers is their ability to chamber incredibly powerful magnum rounds. IMG Jim Grant
Why? Well, there’s a myriad of reasons, but first, let’s go into why a shooter would pick a revolver in the first place.
4 Reasons Revolvers Don’t Suck
Versatility – If a shooter wants a robust firearm capable of firing any load hot enough to launch a round past the muzzle, the revolver is king – full stop. Much like the pump-action shotgun, revolvers don’t care if their ammo is loaded towards the top or bottom of SAAMI specs. Because the shooter themselves work the action, their rounds don’t have to be loaded within set specs to cycle the action. In the simplest terms, this means a shooter can load up a cylinder of super-mild .38 special rounds, or hard-hitting hard-cast 158gr .357 Magnum rounds in the same gun without worrying about reliability.
Power – Additionally, revolvers are capable of firing more powerful rounds than semi-automatic firearms relative to their size. With our current technology, no compact auto-loader can be chambered in anything approaching the muzzle-energy of a J-frame .357 Magnum snub-gun. This isn’t an issue of metallurgy, but geometry and physics. Magnum calibers are simply too physically large to fit in the magazine of a handgun that would still be small enough to reasonably conceal. Moreover, big-bore hunting revolvers in massive calibers like 454 Casull are capable of producing rifle-like levels of ballistic energy in a relatively small package.
Accuracy – Another boon of wheel-guns is their accuracy. Since the barrel is fixed, revolvers tend to be more accurate than automatics of the same size. Though since we’re talking primarily about concealed carry, the benefits of this are negligible since our targets tend to be fairly close.
Durability – Lastly, revolvers are generally more durable than auto-loaders. Since their only moving component is the cylinder – which is surrounded by a robust frame – it’s much more difficult to damage a revolver in a way that affects its functionality. And if we’re talking about concealed carry guns, most snub-nosed revolvers utilize a simple notch for a rear sight that’s integral to the frame and either a pinned and dovetailed front sight post, or a blade permanently affixed to the barrel. In practical terms, this means it’s vastly more difficult to damage the sights to the point where they aren’t zeroed properly.
Although snub-nosed revolvers like this SW 442 are limited in capacity, they’re very reliable and easy to conceal. IMG Jim Grant
But wait, you might be asking, these features all sound awesome. Would these reasons alone make a revolver ideal for concealed carry?
Yes – in the right hands, but also no, because the sacrifices made by carrying a revolver don’t always outweigh the benefits of an auto-loader.
Revolvers are a hard sell against modern conceal carry offerings like this SIG P365 equipped with Shield sight and Streamlight tactical light. IMG Jim Grant
4 Reasons You Shouldn’t Carry a Revolver
Capacity – I’m going to address the big one first. With the proliferation of reliable, ultra-compact pistols in 9mm feeding from ever-increasing capacity magazines, the five and six-round snub nose revolver is at a serious disadvantage. Yes, I’m aware that according to FBI statistics, the average number of rounds fired in a defensive scenario is a scant two, but there are several things wrong with using that stat to pick a defensive weapon. First off, you’re not Dirty Harry. A stone-cold bad-ass keeping your cool like there’s ice in your veins in a potentially deadly encounter with a bad guy. You’re likely scared out of your mind with adrenaline coursing through your veins. Unless you train every single day, you’re not going to be likely to place your rounds perfectly on target. But even if you are, bullets and physics are strange and your attacker might be hopped up on enough stimulants to fight through pain and blood loss until they lose consciousness. Finally, what if you’re firing more than one assailant? Do you really want to be restricted in your firearm’s capacity? In all of these scenarios, the increased capacity of a semi-automatic firearm is objectively superior.
Ease of Use – This was a major selling-point of six-guns in the past to inexperienced, or physically weaker shooters. To fire a revolver, a shooter simply pulls the trigger. When the trigger goes, ‘click’ instead of ‘boom’ they open the cylinder, eject the spend casings, put fresh rounds in, close the cylinder and start pulling the trigger again. But with the advent of firearms like the S&W EZ9, racking the slide of an automatic requires substantially less strength. Yes, it will require a little more training, but since few of these compact auto-loaders feature a manual safety lever, shooters simply need to aim and squeeze the trigger to dispense high-speed lead. But most of all, these diminutive auto-loaders don’t suffer from the long, often-heavy DAO triggers that purpose-built hammerless snubs do. So while they might be a little more difficult to load, their better triggers promote more accurate shooting, which in turn leads to stopping a dangerous threat sooner.
Speed – While reloading a revolver can be done fairly quickly (or extremely quickly by professionals) for everyone else who doesn’t have 10,000+ hours of training on a revolver, inserting a fresh magazine is roughly four times faster and delivers nearly twice as many rounds in the process. Before you jump on me about speed-strips, speed-loaders, or moon-clips, even these don’t mitigate the difference in speed of simply inserting a new magazine.
Recoil – A More accurate header would be Recoil-to-Power-Ratio, but brevity is the soul of wit, and it doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way. But I digress, semi-automatic firearms have less felt recoil than revolvers of comparable size firing rounds of equivalent ballistic energy. This is true primarily for two major reasons. The first is the fact that an automatic firearm siphons some of the expanding gas of the detonating round to propel the slide rearward. This spring-loaded slide dampens some of the recoil impulses before they impart on the shooter’s hand. The second reason is due to a revolver’s relatively high bore axis. This is a consequence of a revolver’s fundamental design and requires a fairly in-depth explanation to fully understand. But suffice to say, semi-automatic pistols align the recoil impulse better with the shooter’s wrist and arm, giving it less leverage against your wrist, making the recoil feel less substantial.
The Ruger MAX-9 is another example of a pistol that is eclipsing the snub-nosed revolver. IMG Jim Grant
Verdict – Do Revolvers Suck?
In general, no, revolvers don’t suck. But they are definitely a second-rate choice in my opinion for a concealed carry pistol. With so many affordable, reliable 9mm compact handguns on the market today, there’s basically no compelling reason to pick a wheel gun for concealed carry. That said if you want a potent reliable hunting option, or simply a big-bore blaster strapped to your hip in case of wild boar or bears, the revolver is tough to top. But for the foreseeable future, I’ll keep my revolvers in the safe, and my SIG P365 in my waistband when venturing out.
About Jim Grant
Jim is one of the elite editors for AmmoLand.com, who in addition to his mastery of prose, can wield a camera with expert finesse. He loves anything and everything guns but holds firearms from the Cold War in a special place in his heart.
When he’s not reviewing guns or shooting for fun and competition, Jim can be found hiking and hunting with his wife Kimberly, and their dog Peanut in the South Carolina low country.