Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Are Revolvers Relevant? Part 2

Most serious students of the defensive pistol will only grudgingly acknowledge that a revolver is a suitable defensive tool, usually with the caveat that they make great back up guns, pocket guns, and are preferable for entangled fights.  The idea that one might choose to carry one as primary lethal force option is usually met with a incredulity, closely followed with either a remark about "Old School Cool", or a less pleasant reference the "Fudds."  In other words, most folks view carriers of revolvers as some sort of gun hipster or an old curmudgeon, neither of which has realized that reality has surpassed his or her understanding.

When discussing the revolver as a viable primary lethal force option, what usually crops up are instances, real or imagined, of fighting off multiple attackers and the need for more on board ammo, relative size, relative weight, relative speed of reloads and the need or lack of need for a reload, so forth and so on.  So why in the world would anyone choose a firearm that has remained virtually unchanged in over 100 years, with a relatively inferior cartridge, as their primary means of lethal force?

Let's start off with comparisons.


A CZ P-07 and S&W 631.  There's not a lot of difference in size
One of the strongest and most often cited arguments against revolvers is the relative size to a compact semi-auto.  As we can see here there is not much difference in actual size between this J frame and compact 9mm pistol.

CZ P07 and S&W Model 10.  Once the standard for a police sidearm, the 4" small frame revolver has been supplanted with a compact pistol.

The disparities in size and weight are even greater when compared to the ubiquitous K frame revolver.  Shown above is a 4" Model 10, which was the standard by which all duty weapons were judged for decades.  The 10-8 pictured above is superbly accurate and a pleasure to shoot.  Unloaded the model 10 weighs around 34 ounces while the P-07 weighs 27 ounces.  Those numbers are startling to a lot of people.  Loaded with 15 rounds the P-07's weight is approximately 34 ounces, the same as the unloaded Model 10.  The model 10's weight comes in at 37 ounces loaded, so the difference isn't as large once ammo is factored into the equation.  Obviously those numbers will vary depending on bullet weights and so forth.  I used two fairly popular loads for this.  The 9mm is a 124 grain +P jacketed hollow point and the .38 Special is a 158 grain +P lead, semi-wadcutter hollow point.  Suffice it to say the weight differences in possible in ammunition aren't enough to matter for our purposes.
Model 10-8 with six rounds of .38 Spl 158 grain +P LSWCHP.

P-07 with 15 rounds of 9mm +P PDX JHP.

Accuracy and Reliability:

With the glaringly obvious differences is weight and on board ammunition capacity it would seem that there is a fairly strong argument for the P07 or a similarly sized pistol.  What about accuracy? Reliability? Ease of use?

I've found both both to be very accurate.  Accuracy is partially ammo dependent however, with good loads either pistol is capable of good accuracy at ranges out to twenty yards.  I haven't tested either further than that at this point.

Both guns are quire reliable.  Ammunition is once again a large part of reliable function.  The use of good ammo has shown me that both guns are quite dependable.

Ease Of Use:

Ease of use is very subjective and covers quite a few specific fundamentals.
  • Trigger Press/Pull

    Many people struggle with the long and sometimes heavy trigger pull of a double action revolver and will turn to striker fired pistols such as a Glock or M&P to address that particular issue.  Picking a gun that has a relatively easy trigger press to master allows one to concentrate on other areas, such as proper sight alignment, follow through, manual of arms, reloading, etc.  Many if not most firearms instructors prefer striker fired pistols for their students as it makes it easier to teach fundamentals.

    A double action revolver on the other hand, has a long distance of trigger travel before the sear is tripped and the hammer drops, firing the gun.  One must concentrate on the fundamentals mentioned above while trying to learn that particular trigger press.
  • Sights and Sight Alignment

    Both revolvers and semi autos typically have what is referred to as a notch and post style sighting systems.  I do realize that current advances in dot style systems have been made and are gaining acceptance in many circles.  I may address that particular system at a different time but, don't feel as it's relevant to this particular discussion.

    Most fixed sight revolvers such as our Model 10-8 have a rear notch that is cut in the frame and a Baughman style ramp sight out front.  The Bauggman Ramp was conceived prior to WW2 and was a vast improvement over the half moon style front sight of the time.  When viewed from the rear it appears to be a square post much like a patridge sight

    Semi autos intended for defensive or combat purposes come with a plethora of sighting options.  Most are still a notch and post setup with a squared off front sight post.

    At first it would seem that both are close enough to not matter however, many shooters complain about the difficulty in getting a good sight picture with a narrow rear notch and ramp style front sight.  Notch and post sighting systems require the shooter to be able to get a crisp view of the front sight when aligning the sights on the target.  That usually requires the rear notch has to be wider than the front post to allow enough light on both sides of the post to provide good contrast.  Sound complicated?  The science of it is, the end result for us as shooters is not.  Most folks determine what works best for them through trial and error.
  • Fitment to hand

    The ability to properly grasp a handgun and fire it while maintaining control can not be over stated.  Revolvers have long held an advantage in this area.  With a design that has remained relatively unchanged for 120 years the options for grips, or what is more properly referred to as stocks are virtually unlimited.

    Manufacturers of semi auto pistols have only recently acknowledged this deficiency.  The old response was to purchase a different sized pistol that might fit one's hands well enough that they could learn to use it adequately.  More credence has been given to the necessity to proper hand fit with various grip adapters, palm swell panels, back straps, and in the case of some of the more modular designs, entirely different frames.  The widespread acceptance of various polymers for inexpensive frame construction has more likely been the impetus for this nod by the industry to closer meet the needs of their consumers.

In conclusion both guns are relatively easy to shoot, albeit the revolver takes more effort to learn to shoot well, accurate, reliable, and weigh about the same to carry.  At this stage the only difference that isn't subjective is the amount of ammo one can carry on board.  An astute reader may have noticed that I have left out the speed and ease of reloads as well as carrying spare ammo.  That's another conversation entirely that I hope to address in future writings.

I had hoped to cover both the Pros and Cons of revolvers in this post.  As I started writing I realized that to cover this with any level of detail wasn't going to happen in a typical blog post.  The next segment will be broken down into the actual Pros and Cons.


  1. What I have found, at least for me, is that revolvers conceal better. Round-butt guns don't have edges that draw the eye or shout "gun" to those who know. Frankly, I'm more comfortable with them.

    1. That's a valid observation for most of us but in my opinion still remains subjective. I'm much more comfortable with a revolver as well.