Who Needs An Auto Anyway?


Thad Rybka, Bill Black and Ray Coffman might argue with you about the need for an auto.

I can already hear some readers saying, “Roy, did you bring this yokel aboard so he can feed us that same old revolver versus autoloader crap?” Well — yes and no. I’m not here to repeat the same old arguments, but since I’ve attended classes at Thunder Ranch dedicated to all three types of handguns, I’d like to share a bit of insight I gained from the experiences.

My opinion is this: A single action revolver gives up exactly nothing to an autoloading pistol for the first five rounds. And that’s both when the sights are used, or the thing is just stuck out in front of you and the trigger pulled. Are you thinking “rubbish” — or some less printable word?

Let me tell you this. At one class Clint asked me to use a Colt SAA .45 for a while so the rest of the group would be exposed to something different. A little into the course he asked me, and a class member using a 1911, to step forward. With the targets only feet away and with our handguns pointed out in front in both hands, he asked us to fire two shots as fast as possible on his command. He also told the rest of the class to judge who fired fastest.

Top, those are .45 Colt bullets. Who needs more?

Deadly Duke

I thought, “Great, Clint put me on the hot seat!” I’d never done such a thing before and had no idea how it would go. To the surprise of the entire class — including me — they couldn’t tell which of us fired fastest. Clint had us do it again, and with the same results.

Last summer two young Marine friends just back from combat in Iraq stopped to visit me after seeing the movie Open Range. Inspired, they asked to shoot some SA revolvers and lever action rifles. We did the “Clint Drill” several times, and those young fellows were just as surprised that “old cowboy guns” could be fired as fast as “modern” combat handguns.

What about double action revolvers? I attended a Thunder Ranch class dedicated to them sometime after. And here’s what I think. The double action revolver, when fired only DA, is the hardest of all handguns to shoot well. I could never keep the bullet holes on the targets as close with the guns I brought (N-frame S&W .38s and .44s) as I can do with either single actions or 1911s. In fact, my target often looked like someone had hit it with OO buck from a ways back.

Here’s one important proviso. The autoloader and the DA revolver can easily be fired one-handed, as when the other hand is occupied — say in holding up your pants or some equally important task. To equal their speed of shooting, the single action must be manipulated with two hands. One to hold the revolver, aim it and press the trigger, and the other to cock the hammer. Be sure, I’m not talking about movie high jinks like fanning, but about aimed fire.

Shootin' Yer Foot Off

In the beginning, the phrase “first five rounds” was used. Aren’t we talking about “sixguns” here? Absolutely, but if I thought that extra round was needed it most certainly would be in there. But for packing a traditionally styled single action about the only safe way is with the hammer down on the empty sixth chamber. Don’t doubt it. I personally have known two people who died because they doubted it.

The kicker is the reload. Autoloaders are a breeze, as long as the spare magazines are there. So are DA revolvers, as long as the speed loaders are there. Single action revolvers require numerous small movements to bring them back up to speed. Here in Montana, I have a CCW and when exercising my right to carry usually have either a Les Baer Thunder Ranch Special or a Kimber Pro Carry .40 S&W.

However, when going about my everyday life, I almost always have a single action revolver within reach. If accosted would I run off screaming into the night because that’s all the gun I possessed? I certainly hope not. Autoloaders are easy. Single actions are almost as easy for the first five shots. Double action revolvers? Now, that’s a handgun for the experts. And that’s my opinion on the matter.

Get More Revolver Content Every Week!

Sign up for the Wheelgun Wednesday newsletter here: