In Defense Of The Defensive Revolver

Retro Is Still Right-On

We could take the effort to talk about the viability of revolvers as defensive firearms — but I’m not going to. Let’s leave it at “Lots of good work can be done with revolvers and many people still use revolvers on a daily basis as defensive tools.” The question of whether or not it’s a good idea to defend yourself with a revolver could be an issue. But by acquiring the proper skill levels, a revolver will be no more or less effective than any other firearm.

Then again, revolvers do have mechanical issues needing to be addressed in training. This is what we should really be interested in. Sort of a “How do we make it even better” concept.

A sharp smack against the ejector rod gets rid of trash cleanly.

Range Practice

An idiosyncrasy of revolvers is they have a limited number of charge holes. Some have five, while most have six. Of course, Smith & Wesson makes some now with seven or even eight. In all candor, the more holes in the cylinder, the merrier you can be.

The bottom line is it seems shotguns and revolvers have something in common — they both run out of ammo often. If I practice shooting
shotguns or revolvers, I practice loading and I practice loading a LOT. So, keep in mind it may not be the number of rounds in the gun, but the equipment and techniques for reloading that are really important.

We’ll grant that a charged magazine is easier to insert into a mag well than it is to fumble six, semi-loose cartridges in a speed loader into a cylinder. There’s more moving stuff when loading a revolver, consequently there are more chances for something to get screwed up. Hence the reason for the chronological advent of the rubber speed strip, speed loader, Jet loaders and all the rest. But not to worry. With loaders like the HKS, the whole process of loading can happen pretty quickly — but only with practice.

Practice Specifics

During the process of loading keep your head and eyes up and on the threat area. Index the right index finger on a cartridge in the loader while the left thumb indexes on a high part of the cylinder leading to a charge hole. Simply let the right index finger meet the left thumb for cartridge/charge hole alignment. The high and low points of the cylinder — based on the flutes — are used as joining indexes and reference points while loading and handling the revolver. This is a reason to avoid nonfluted cylinders in defensive revolvers.

While on the subject of loading, it’s important to remember gravity is your friend, or enemy, depending on how you use it. When ejecting spent cases, keep the muzzle up allowing gravity to help. When loading, keep the muzzle down, as the cartridges are started into the
charge holes of the cylinder. Then activate the release on the loader and move the cylinder counterclockwise letting the loader fall to the ground. I do not recommend “moving” the loader away as this act often drags cartridges back out of the cylinder causing failures to load, stoppages, or other such unpleasantries. Twist the release and let go of the loader.

Some systems use a full or partial clip to hold cartridges. Think of the “Moon” clip concept. The whole “clip” cartridges family is in fact probably easier to load than standard speed loaders. This system of loading could be a consideration when selecting a defensive revolver. I would point out the fastest guy in the world with a revolver, Jerry Miculek, uses this pre-loaded clip system. Detectives would call this a clue.

Cartridge is aligned with high point of clylinder for indexing while loading.

Pre-loaded clip.

Tactical Loads

Loading a partially depleted cylinder is something that can be done but requires practice. Open the cylinder and press back on the ejector rod an inch or so then allow it to go back forward into place. Often the fired cases will stick, partially ejected, allowing the shooter
to strip those cases and then replace them with fresh cartridges. In my opinion when all else fails, dump the whole cylinder and reload with a fresh speed loader. The cartridges in the gun are better than the ones on the ground. Ammunition management is a consideration, and if carrying a revolver for defense it might be wise to carry more speed loaders than you might magazines for an auto pistol.

The Trigger

Revolvers generally come with an SA or DA trigger capability and it’s my opinion the best way to shoot a defensive revolver is in the DA mode. This is definitely the most expeditious way to shoot the revolver. If you choose to cock the revolver there’s no question the trigger compression required to fire is lighter. Then again if the revolver is cocked and now the shooter elects not to fire, it requires a thinking person to put the hammer back down without having an unintentional loud bang.

Thumb blocking hammer to uncock a cocked revolver without firing.

Uncocking (R/H shooter)

First of all this issue can be addressed by simply NOT cocking the DA revolver to start with. If it’s cocked by choice or accident, it then needs to be disarmed. Place the left hand thumb between the cocked hammer and the frame. Compress the trigger until the hammer releases, resting against the left thumb. Then apply enough rearward pressure to the hammer spur with your right thumb to remove your left thumb BUT DO NOT RE-COCK THE HAMMER. Allow the hammer to go forward gently once the left thumb is removed. I would practice this with an empty revolver to make sure the technique was mastered before you try it for real.

DA Trigger Control

This may be a case of simpler said than done. Once the sights are on target, the trigger should be stroked smoothly and directly to the rear in one fluid motion. Do not “pop” or snap the trigger, as the sights will be pulled off-target. When learning, see how slowly and smoothly the trigger can be stroked rearward while the sights stay on the target. This is a lifelong challenge, mastered by few.

Hand position while using a flashlight and revolver.

Thumbs together keeps light away from front of cylinder.

Flashlight Use

Using a flashlight and a revolver is challenging but can be done. Be alert to keep the flashlight and your fingers away from the front of the cylinder since significant blast emits from this area. If your thumbs touch each other while firing with the light in one hand
and the revolver in the other, it’s pretty hard to get into much trouble.

Left thumb and right index finger indexing for loading.

Speed loader vs. pre-loaded clips.

Speed Vs. Marksmanship

If you train for speed first and accuracy second, you’ll virtually always come in second. Most people do not practice enough and a lack of speed would be their most important issue. Shooting accurately, however, is almost always an issue.

I think you should hit the target well regularly — and then work to press yourself to do it more quickly. This is what we would call a mental clock: the ability to look at the target, adjust the time wisely and shoot well enough to hit. If you are closer to the target try to hit more quickly. If you are farther away, adjust the clock in your head and your trigger finger to hit the target as soon as you can.

Revolver Competition

Competition is good, but doesn’t necessarily prepare you for a confrontation. However, most competition usually doesn’t hurt us either. When I’m asked, I always suggest people shoot whatever and whenever they can, and I suggest they practice fundamental things like looking at the sights and pressing the trigger. Shooting a revolver in competition against auto pistols won’t be much fun for most folks, and you will probably not win much. But you WILL GET BETTER with your revolver.

Practice What?

I can literally walk out my door and shoot whenever I want and I still don’t think I shoot enough. This is a problem I’m working to address all the time. I’m also often asked what I practice. If it’s possible, I shoot about 100 rounds a day. This routine can vary since on some days I don’t draw at all and on other days I draw on every exercise. I address areas I’m not so good at because there’s not much
sense in shooting stuff I’m already good at. Especially when I do so many things wrong. This is good for all firearms and not exclusively with the revolver.

Shoot the best you can all the time, for every shot. If your choice for a defensive handgun is a revolver, then I suggest you consider practicing as much as you can. Practice drawing smoothly and shooting carefully enough to hit the target well with each shot fired. There won’t be a stopwatch present, and there won’t be any doover after the fight is done in the real world.

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