Are Revolvers Obsolete?

Much of the time a revolver will do the job, but…

Are revolvers obsolete? Yes…

…and at the same time very much No. Because real life is never simple. On the one hand for many people a light-weight polymer-framed high-capacity semi auto is an excellent choice for self defense, and as a duty weapon it has many unquestionable advantages. There’s a reason that autos have been far and away the most common military sidearms for over a century. With improvements to the weapons and ammunition in recent decades they have attained similar dominance in law enforcement.

Modern semi-autos are light, reliable and carry a lot of ammunition. They reload quickly and easily compared to a revolver. Yes, you can get pretty good with a speed-loader, but unless you’re Jerry Miculek it’s just not going to be as fast as an autoloader.

For many reasons and in many ways revolvers are obsolete compared to modern semi-auto pistols. But this does not mean they are useless or irrelevant, and there are a still a few things they do better than semi-autos.

Reliability

I’m listing this first because it’s the first thing most people think of. Yes, revolvers can and do jam, and unlike a semi-auto when they do you aren’t going to fix it easily in the field. But it’s a vanishingly rare occurrence; some folks have shot revolvers all their life and never encountered a jam. If it’s loaded and you pull the trigger it’s most likely going to go bang… and if it doesn’t a simple trigger pull gives you another chance. As FTF drills go pulling the trigger again is pretty simple.

The lightweight S&W Model 327, a genuine 21st C. revolver. Made of Scandium and Titanium with an 8-shot cylinder using moon clips, it’s light, powerful and compact.

They also are ammunition-agnostic. They aren’t picky; if it fits it shoots. Powder-puff target loads to +P screamers, the revolver just doesn’t care. Given the shoddy state of a lot of rimfire ammunition these days this is especially relevant for rimfire revolvers used for plinking, small-game hunting and even self-defense.

Would I personally choose a revolver over a semi-auto on this basis alone? No. But it’s something to think about.

Simplicity

I once heard the manual-of-arms for a revolver described thusly:

‘Open the cylinder, fill the holes with cartridges. Pull the trigger until it stops going bang. Open the cylinder and dump the empties. Repeat.

It doesn’t get a lot simpler than that. No loading magazines, no safeties, no releasing the slide, no clearing jams. Of course the latter is because if it does jam you probably can’t clear it.

Yes, I know that learning the manual-of-arms for a semi-auto isn’t rocket science, but sometimes it’s just easier for a beginner to use a revolver.

I’ve introduced a lot of people to handgun shooting over the years, and around half of them have found the relative simplicity of revolvers appealing. Not being experienced shooters they didn’t realize that the heavy double-action pull was supposed to be a problem and did just fine with them. My ex-wife, at 5’2″ and 100lbs soaking wet, handled my Model 36 like a pro in her Women’s Armed Self-Defense class.

A lot of them went on to semi-autos in time, but the revolver was their gateway-drug. If a new shooter wants to shoot a wheel-gun don’t explain to them why you think it’s a bad choice; it’s certainly better than nothing and it gets them shooting.

Power

Th single-action .44 Magnum revolver is still the go-to choice for a hunting handgun.

By and large revolvers are available in more powerful cartridges than semi-autos. Yes, there are magnum semi-autos, but they’re rare and expensive beasts. If you want a powerful repeating handgun for hunting or long-range target shooting the revolver remains the weapon of choice.

My ‘peeing-in-the-woods-OMG-is-that-a-bear-gun,’ a Taurus Model 415 .41 magnum. Only slightly larger and heavier than a K-frame S&W it’s a great comfort on trips into the great outdoors.

.44 Magnum and .454 Casull are both popular choices for big-game hunting and self-defense against dangerous game, and the revolvers that chamber these rounds are lighter, cheaper and more reliable than their semi-auto counterparts. We can argue all day about the real-world utility of handguns chambered in .45-70 or .500 S&W, but at the end of the day if you want that level of power and more than one shot revolvers are where it’s at.

Light Weight

An alloy-frame S&W J-frame is lighter than any of the popular service-caliber polymer semi-autos used for self-defense. In some seasons and places minimal clothing is necessary for comfort and to blend in. In those cases dropping an air-weight J-frame in a pocket can be a lot easier to manage than a similarly sized semi-auto. Yes, it’s only five shots, but five is infinitely better than none.

At 13.7 oz. an Airweight J-frame packs a lot of punch for little weight.

In fact you can buy an ultra-light revolver in nearly any caliber you’re masochistic enough to shoot. In activities like hiking, deep-woods hunting and similar activities weight can matter a lot.

People Like Them

This may seem a silly basis for choosing a weapon to bet your life on, but is it? A gun you like is a gun you’ll practice with, and a gun you practice with is more likely to save your life when you need it.

It’s axiomatic that the gun you have with you when you need it is the right gun, and a gun you find comfortable, convenient and that you like is more likely to be there when you need it.

Colt Police Positive Special made in 1909. I love this gun and find it comfortable and easy to shoot fast and well. There are worse criteria for choosing a concealed-carry pistol.

Suited to Purpose

For special applications like hunting a revolver is still the weapon of choice. Even in applications like civilian self-defense it can be a valid choice depending on the individuals life, anticipated threats and circumstances. Most self-defense shootings are at point-blank range and are resolved in 2-3 shots, and a revolver will deliver those shots with great reliability.

Obsolete?

For many applications they very much are. There are good and valid reasons police and militaries have overwhelmingly chosen semi-automatics for duty use. There is simply no arguing that for them more shots are better, semi-autos reload faster and are more resistant to extreme environmental conditions. Modern semi-auto pistols are the go-to choice for professionals who rely on their weapons every day, and they should be. But…

Revolvers are inarguably still relevant, and not just to ‘Fudds’ and old farts like me; a lot of younger folks find their qualities serve their needs well. There are good reasons why companies like Colt, Kimber and others keep introducing new models, and people keep buying them. Despite the proliferation of excellent, reliable and affordable semi-autos people still find revolvers attractive and useful, and they just keep chugging along.

One of my go-to carry guns, a Colt Detective Special.

Do I carry a revolver? Pretty often, though I do carry semi-automatics frequently as well. I’m confident in my abilities with them and they suit the sort of needs I feel I am most likely to encounter in day-to-day life. At the end of the day that’s what they need to do.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 17 September 2021

Guns, see… Guns is Whatcha’ Call Notional.

Nice 25-yard double-action group, but where’s the 5th bullet? Well, lemme tell ya…

A long-awaited range day today was, uh, interesting. Got some decent shooting in with the ‘new’ Detective Special, but even that got odd. Let me tell ya about it…

Our First Contestant is…

…the celebrated Detonics Mk.1 Combat Master .45. I’d picked up some random cast 200gr. LSWCs and loaded them over 6.3gr. of Universal with a Winchester WLP primer. Good medium-power load. Let the weirdness begin…

Insert a magazine, rack the slide… and the gun doesn’t go into battery. Huh. The Detonics doesn’t normally do that. I press the back of the slide lightly and it goes into battery. Aim fire, jam. Not in battery and this time it’s not going to be. OK, drop the mag, rack the slide and an empty case pops out spraying unburned powder everywhere. Looking into the chamber I see… the bullet. I dislodged it with a cleaning rod and looked it over. Yeah, that’s not right…

If you thing the base of the bullet is smaller than the nose you’ve got good eyes…

It almost looks like a heel-base bullet. The part inside the case is .451, the nose, which was outside the case, is .458. Its a .458 bullet, as might be loaded in a .45-70. Weird. I mean, who loads a .45-70 with a 200gr. bullet? OK, there are other .458 guns, but they’re even more unlikely. The bullets aren’t too big for the reloading dies, but they jam at the lip in the chamber. I checked and yes, they are all like that. OK, I need to pull the bullets from the remaining 48 rounds. Oh joy. In the meantime no shooting the Combat Master. Bugger.

Next?

Almost Perfect.

Remington Model 51 with 642 for size comparison

I’d always loved the sleek, elegant look of the Remington Model 51, and I finally got one. It’s reliable, thin, compact and a great shooter. But, as I mentioned in my review, it chews a hole in my hand with the slide. So I smoothed where I could to try and alleviate this. Hoping my discreet efforts would yield good results, I loaded it up and started shooting. Light recoil, accuracy that belies the awful sights… and it still chews a hole in my hand. Bugger.

Looks like my beloved and much admired Remington will be seeking a new home soon. Did I mention Bugger?

…and of Course Nothing Can Go Totally right.

Double-taps at five yards. I’ll take that.

On to the new-to-me Detective Special. This went well, though the new Birdseye Maple grip isn’t quite perfect for me. Not a problem, it was made to sell not for me personally.

Finally I ran a target out to 25 yards and squeezed off five shots double action. Uh, make that four shots. On the final shot the gun jammed. Yes, a revolver jammed. It does happen. The culprit turned out to be that the last shot had walked forward under recoil, and the tip of the bullet stuck out just far enough to prevent the cylinder from turning.

This is particularly weird because I’m not exactly known for under-crimping when I load .38 Special. Yet this particular case does not appear to be crimped at all. This shouldn’t be able to happen, yet there it is. Close examination showed that the perfectly normal-looking case was .015″ shorter than the other cases, just barely enough to cause it to miss the crimping shoulder in the die when seating the bullet. It’s a perfectly normal looking Remington case, and shows no evidence that someone shortened it. Weird.

Having determined the cause of the issue I reeled in the target. Tried to, actually; the target-trolley had jumped the track. I had to get an RO to go downrange and un-bugger it. When I did get to reel it in the results weren’t bad at all; it’s the target at the top of the page.

I finished off the box of ammo without further incident, doing double-taps at different ranges and shooting strong and weak-hand, but my heart just wasn’t in it anymore, and I packed up and headed home.

No, nothing bad happened on the way, or really since.

So, a mix of good, bad and weird at the range today.

On a Good Note…

…an unexpected package arrived in the mail the other day from Sapper Gentleman, a very nice fellow with a Youtube channel that I support on Patreon. It seems I won a couple prizes in last month’s drawing! A VISM emergency tourniquet and a magazine-loader for AR15 magazines that was 3D printed by another of his viewers!

I had no idea I’d won, because I never watch the give-away videos, so it was a little surreal until the light dawned. I suppose now I need to get an AR15 in 5.56mm…

So, shout out to Sapper gentleman, and thank you!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 8 September 2021

Speaking of Patreon, if you like what you see here please consider clicking on the link above and supporting me on Patreon.

There’s a Time to Keep Your Mouth Shut.

I was in a discussion on boar hunting, and someone brought up the topic of hunting boars with a pack of dogs and a knife. Yes, people do this. It started in Spain as near as I can tell, but I haven’t really researched it. Over my decades as a custom knife maker I’ve made a few blades for people that do this. heck, I even I made a gladius for one fellow.

Top Knives Wild Pig Hunter- purpose built for ‘Hodogging’ as it'[s called.

The idea is simple- take two or more dogs into the woods, they chase down and immobilize a boar, then the hunter comes in and carefully delivers a death-blow with the knife. I think they are absolutely out of their minds but hey, it’s legal, they’re adults and it’s a free country. It’s not like I haven’t done some pretty crazy things in my life, like voluntarily jumping out of a functional aircraft in flight. This not the act of a rational human being.

Now when first approached to make a knife for this I thought its was a pretty questionable activity, and this was pre-internet so I asked about it. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Yes, the hog is more powerful and dangerous than any single dog, but they aren’t dealing with one dog, they are dealing with a team, and they’ve got that hog cold before the person with the knife moves in. Yes, it is dangerous to both the dogs and the hunter, but everyone but the hog is a willing participant and the dogs are seldom seriously injured. I still think they are crazy, but no one is making me do it so it’s not really any of my business; making a judgmental comment about it is not going to have any good result. So of course someone did. The response was boringly predictable, and the only product of their post was snarkiness and ill-will, with a complete disregard for our common interests or indeed the subject of the post.

If this were an isolated incident you wouldn’t be reading this, but it happens all the time. People trash on each others choices of firearms, sneer at each other’s hunting pictures, taste in guns, politics etc. At a time when we as gun owners should be pulling together we’re too busy being assholes. It’s not helping anything and frankly I’m getting pretty damn sick of it.

OK, the vast majority of people in the gun end of social media are decent and respectful, but it doesn’t take many assholes to ruin it for everyone and they do. I don’t go to gun pages to hear about how we should shoot people we disagree with, or about how someone is stupid for the gun, activity or politics they choose. The best possible thing that can come from that kind of crap is a bunch of people joining in and turning the whole thing into a toxic intellectual circle-jerk, and that’s actually a BAD result.

Where’s the respect? The acknowledgement that people are allowed to be different? The discussion, education, the solidarity centered on our common interests rather than our differences? All too often the answer is that people would rather demean and dismiss others than question their own beliefs or try to understand. It’s easier to label someone and dismiss them. It’s comfortable. Hell, a pile of manure is soft and warm if you can stomach the smell… at first at least.

Before you respond to a post in a negative manner ask yourself, ‘Is this really going to help anything?’ If the answer is no maybe your goal is to feed your ego, feed your hate and feel smug. Maybe instead of posting you should reflect on why you think that’s a good thing… and consider therapy.

Now if someone is spewing BS that will encourage people to do things that might harm themselves and others it might be useful to speak up. Sometimes it’s a good thing to politely and respectfully offer education to keep them and others safe. But there are no circumstances under which calling them names and being abusive is going to make anything better, ever. if your goal is to make things worse, then you are just a dick. At best.

It’s OK for people to be into different things, and even if you think those things are stupid sometimes the best choice is to keep it to yourself. But if you just can’t help yourself being respectful and polite in your response might actually make things better instead of worse. Someone might even, God forbid, learn something.

Take care and stay safe.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 7 September 2021