On Revolvers

Caleb caused quite a stir when he noted that wheelguns are obsolete. Tim followed up, noting that the issue was capacity. Tam notes that the correct word is “obsolescent.”

Any bets on how long it takes for the first commenter to say “If’n my revolver’s so obsole… obsolecs… obso-whatever, why don’t you stand over there and let me shoot it at you?” Hey, a Model A is obsolescent, but I wouldn’t bet you couldn’t drive one to New York.

I used to carry an N-frame sometimes when I hiked, mostly because it’s a cheaper and more reasonable option over a Desert Eagle, if you want a pistol capable of firing a cartridge that can top 1000ft-lbs of muzzle energy. I’ve never had much interest in revolvers other than as a trail gun and for IHMSA competition, back when I had time for that.

37 thoughts on “On Revolvers”

  1. Only revolvers I have (other than the cap and ball ones) are for hunting, and only because the State demands it.

  2. …until you limp wrist that glock 19 because you as shooting one-handed from and awkward position and you stovepipe it.

    In my neck of the woods, one of the most common robbery techniques is smash him over the head or knock him to the ground and then take his stuff. In both cases, it makes sense to have a gun you can be confident you will get a second shot as well as shoot pressed up against someone.

    disclaimer: I don’t carry.

    1. Tom Givens has one of the largest databases of actual civilian CCW shootings available. Interestingly, not a single one of them was a muzzle-contact shot.

  3. If you hold a semi-auto the wrong way, you’ll cause it to jam. For many people who just keep a gun for defense and don’t train with it a revolver is greatly preferable. Since the statistics show the avg. “gunfight” lasts about THREE rounds, a 5-shot .38 is not inferior to a semi on the count of capacity. The revolver is anything but obsolescent.

      1. What I found is this:


        What it shows is an amateur extract from years of “Armed Citizen” postings in the American Rifleman.

        Since that is not exactly a rigorous, peer reviewed, scientific study, I will retract my statement of an average of 3 rounds per incident.

        However, from Gary Kleck’s study of DGUs in the early nineties, what is apparent is that the majority of defensive uses of firearms do not involve the firearm actually being discharged, so, I would continue to argue that a revolver is in no way inferior to a semi-automatic pistol for the purposes of self-defense.

        1. I would point out that carrying a gun, any gun is better than leaving home without one. But the point of post being linked to above is that with modern manufacturing techniques there is nothing a revolver can do that a semi can’t also do with the added benefit of having more rounds, and even if the average is only 3 rounds, if you can have the ability to carry more without any significant negatives why not do that.

          And the whole revolvers never jam is an anecdote based on decades old data. Modern semi autos are reliable as all fuck if you buy a quality one from the get go and maintain it properly.

          1. I’m sorry, but, as has been pointed out elsewhere, you need to work with a semi-auto in order to keep it from jamming. No matter the make or model of semi-auto, if you don’t hold it right, it WILL jam. All things being equal, a revolver won’t. Many of the people I see…buy a gun, take it home, put it in their night stand – and forget about it. These people should have revolvers, period. -JW

  4. This is a tangent to the subject, but I liked the “Model A” analogy. My dad thought the Model A was the pinnacle of automotive technology (once you retrofitted hydraulic brakes from a later ’30s model Ford), and held that opinion until the day he died in 2004. And for what he valued most highly in an automobile, I guess it was. So, I can see why the comparison of the Model A to revolvers was more appropriate than Tam realized.

  5. @Tam: He must have missed mine. Back in the early 1990’s (think it was ’93), I was working the front desk at a La Quinta Motor Inn in Charlotte, NC, and had a robber jump the counter to attack me in the back room. When he saw the gun in my hand (a S&W 640-1) he made a grab for it; I twisted it out of his hand, pressed it against his abdomen, and fired a single shot, which ruptured his spleen and made him kick a hole in the wall. It took the strength out of him, though. He made another attempt to grab the gun a couple of minutes later when I was on the phone with the hotel manager, I pushed him down to the floor and asked him if he wanted another one. He said no, and remained on the floor until the police came.

    1. Were you one of his students? Did yours occur in Memphis?

      That would explain why it isn’t in his files, then. Still, out of thirty-something heavily documented ones, there aren’t any muzzle-contact shootings. This isn’t to say they don’t happen, just that they’re nowhere near as common as Gun Forum Lore would suggest.

      1. I know of two contact shootings personally. The first one is a law enforcement shooting. Off duty Northwoods PD officer in St. Louis County, 3 gang bangers tried to car jack him. He used his J frame to shoot one of them under the right arm/shoulder area. This was 92 or 93 during the Christmas break.

        The second was three weeks later Pinelawn in St. Louis County, female owner of a liquor store was walking to her car with the deposit, got jumped fired one round in the robbers inside thigh. She used a S&W Model 10.

        I sorta knew the Northwoods officer as he worked secondary with the same security company I worked for and the lady with the liquor store I was friends with her husband and knew the detective assigned.

        First perp almost lost his arm, got 2 years. Second survived and got 4 years probation as he was a juvenile. His 5th offense since his 12th birthday, he was only 14 at the time.

  6. I like revolvers for flinch training. Load the .44 magnum with 5 hot and one casing, spin the wheel, and see how steady you were on the “click”.

  7. Revolvers are a good choice for those who lack the physical ability to work a slide or load magazines. That includes many people with carpal tunnel, severe arthritis, and other such conditions.

    There are those who find the ergonomics of a revolver superior, and there are those who shoot them better than many semiautomatics. I’d be one of those.

    As far as being “obsolete,” the actual definition is “no longer produced or used; out of date.” That really doesn’t fit the bill.

    Is the revolver obsolete because Tactical IDPA Larry doesn’t use it? Far from it.

    1. Because someone with carpal tunnel or arthritis is going to have SUCH an easy time with a DA revolver trigger.

      This is probably the stupidest argument for revolvers ever because it completely ignores one of the major drawbacks of a wheelgun.

      1. Speaking as someone with carpal tunnel, I shoot semi-auto. I hate revolvers, both for the trigger pull and for the fact that most of them simply do not fit my hand.

        I do appreciate them for back country adventures in AK. But even then, I’ll usually go for a rifle instead.

      2. As I comment below, I can’t grip a slide to rack it, but I have ZERO difficulty using DA on my S&W and my Colt O.M. You ain’t been there, so don’t assume you know.

    2. That’s me. Semi-autos became obsolete as my arthuritis progressed to the point where I cannot not grip a slide to rack it. Only SA I still have is a junk P-38 that I cannot sell with a clear conscience.

      1. Double negative in there – sorry. Need an edit function here, webmaster!

  8. Who cares? Every bolt-action rifle I own is also obsolete. I still enjoy shooting them.

    1. “Every bolt-action rifle I own is also obsolete.”

      I really don’t want to start up this debate, but I remember when my platoon’s M-14s ALL jammed solid with sticky sand and we were overrun.

      Fortunately it was in training in South Carolina, and we were “overrun” by advancing pop-up silhouette targets arranged to simulate advancing enemy troops. But a combination of a rainy day and hands and fatigues covered with white beach-like sand in the SC piney woods resulted in rifles locked up tight after only 3 – 4 rounds were fired from each, and afterward I thought how we would have been much better off with good old Springfields and their camming bolts and tough extractors in that scenario.

      Many, many people have assured me since that that just can’t happen with the excellent, dependable M-14, but I know I didn’t dream it. Put me in a “survival” situation that doesn’t involve a shootout with a drug cartel or something, and I will choose my obsolete bolt guns any day.

      1. Don’t forget the fact that bolt-action and single-shot firearms can be suppressed much more effectively than semi-automatic firearms…

  9. I readily agree that medium-sized revolvers are obsolescent, but man do I love ’em.

    What about at the extremes? Big magnums a la 629 are still valid hunting/wilderness handguns.

    The size S category is where I predict controversy. Are people going to claim an airweight J-frame is no longer a strong choice for pocket carry?

    I can give lots of reasons IN PRINCIPLE why we should ditch the J-frame in favor of a little 9mm, but IN PRACTICE I just don’t like the way those guns carry in or deploy from a pants pocket. 9mms are belt guns.

    In practice, the two gun types I can consistently make work for/from routine pocket carry are (1) a J-frame revolver and (2) the micro 6+1 .380s like LCP/P3AT/P380 that sell like mad.

    In that matchup, the revolver has both strengths and weaknesses. I can shoot a J-frame .38+P as well as a 10 oz .380. Both require a fair amount of dedicated practice. Top .38+P defense loads are pretty darn good ballistically.

    1. I’ll just add that if you’re going to argue revolvers are obsolet … dammit, obsolescent, for lightweight pocket carry, you’re now arguing against the marketplace, not with it. When I’m at the gun shop it looks like the J class is the only category of revolvers where there’s still a fair amount of innovation (LCR, S&W Bodyguard) and new product introduction.

      The Js were also the first wheelguns to sell out in the recent panic and the last to come back — although all revolvers came back long before defensive semi-autos like M&P 9mms, ARs, and the like.

      1. I can’t speak for anybody else, but I know in my post I specifically stated that the J-frame sized wheelgun is still a superior choice for pocket carry because most of the autos in that size class either don’t carry in a pocket as well or are underpowered/less reliable.

        1. Yes you did.

          But I read it days, literally DAYS, ago, and evidently didn’t retain much besides the obsolete/obsolescent distinction.

          Reviewing it now, I would basically co-sign that post.

    2. Have you tried the small-frame semi-auto pistols from Diamondback? I have a DB9, and in my experience it’s far more comfortable to shoot than an LCP (or similar).

      The DB380 is roughly the same size as pretty much every other micro-frame .380 (LCP, TCP, P3AT, etc.), while the DB9 is slightly larger (roughly the same thickness as the .380, while having the same length/height as the Colt Mustang/SIG P238. Photo comparison of DB pistols here.

      being able to get a higher grip is HUGE. It reduces felt recoil (the pistol feels less snappy), and it allows the shooter to get a much better grip on the pistol.

  10. Hammerless J-frames, like the 642/442, are my choice for *practical* self-defense carry. They can be fired (emptied, actually) from inside of a jacket pocket without the need to draw. Real-life self-defense scenarios rarely leave you with enough time to draw from concealment, as you are often within arm’s reach by the time you need to make the decision to reach for your firearm. This is especially true during winter months, when wearing several layers of clothing and jackets which make drawing from concealment slower.

    And it is nice to put fired cases directly back in the box, rather than sweeping them up off the range floor.

    1. Much like contact shots, I can’t think of too many actual documented shooting incidents, from reading various sources collections of same over the past couple decades, where the defensive gun use was a shot from inside the pocket.

      Not saying it can’t happen, but I think it is more one of the “theoretical” advantages than one that has proven out.

  11. Hmmm, my J-frame EDC spits fire and throws lead at high speeds. My M&P9c spits fire and throws lead at high speeds. Obsolete? When our tools are shooting death rays or frickin’ lazer beams…then we can talk about obsolete.

  12. Revolvers are certainly fun, that’s for sure. Just like a good boltie.

    I think a .357/.38 or a .44 should be in every gun collector’s safe. It’s like sharing a connection with early pistol history for me…

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