Revolvers are enjoying a massive resurgence of popularity. As we noted in the Taurus review we ran earlier this week (or the Kimber Revolver from SHOT Show), the old-school technology is still evolving. So what’s behind America’s love-affair with wheel-guns? Is it simple nostalgia, or is there something deeper?
There are certainly nostalgic elements to the revolver. Most single action guns hold firm to their 19th century roots. But there are very few people carrying single-action revolvers, and even fewer concealing them. Double-action, on the other hand…. There is a retro-cool to the Colt Snakes. Smith & Wesson, and others, are rocking big-bore calibers that simply aren’t practical in automatic pistols. And the refinements of material science have allowed many new options in lightweight concealed carry guns.
Revolvers have a reputation for being fool-proof. Though their mechanics are often complex, Revolvers are easy to use. And they never fail, right?
Well, the truth is more complex. There is a world of mythology that surrounds the revolver. And as a die-hard revolver fan, I’d like to share some of my experience. This is in no-way designed to talk you out of your decision to carry a revolver–instead, you need to know what the potential pitfalls might be.
Myth #1–Revolvers don’t jam.
This has to be the most pervasive of all revolver myths. There’s some truth to it, in that many revolvers are very reliable. But you’re kidding yourself if you accept this as gospel truth. Wheel-guns suffer from the same issue all guns have. I have broken them down into five categories.
- Ammunition–There are people who believe revolvers will shoot any-old ammo. Not true. High primers can jam the cylinder rotation. Unburned powder, leaving powder flakes in the barrel and cylinder, gets under the extractor star and keeps it from retracting. On some super lightweight guns that shoot super-hot loads, the recoil can cause an unfired rounds to un-crimp, which allows the bullets to move forward. This impedes the cylinder from rotating.
- Maintenance–Yes you do have to maintain your revolver. The cylinder window in the frame must be clean. Next the underside of the extractor (star) and the recess must be clean. All of the screws must be tight. I once did a reload at an ICORE match and the cylinder and yoke on my S&W 625 went skidding across the range. Lack of maintenance really falls into the next category….
- User error–In addition to a lack of maintenance, user caused malfunctions often break down into basic trigger discipline. You can ride the trigger and prevent it from resetting, or short stroke it. But you can also stall a revolver by allowing a round under the ejector star during sloppy or hasty loading.
- Mechanical issues–Revolvers are powered by the user instead of the ammunition’s energy (like on an automatic). But the energy of the rounds fired still takes a toll on the gun. While automatics move with the forces of redirected energy, a revolver just has to take the beating. The key operated lockouts on Smith & Wesson revolvers (normally operated by a key that I always promptly loose) can be engaged by a hot load. I have been told that some Colt revolvers may break firing pins. While these issues are incredibly rare, they can happen.
- Damage–Revolvers are prone to damage. Drop your revolver on the cylinder on a concrete sidewalk and see if it still works with a bent ejector rod. Lob it in the dirt or mud and see if the cylinder will turn. Slam the cylinder open and closed, Hollywood style, and see what it does to the timing. While these are easily preventable, they will stop a revolver.
Myth #2–Revolvers are easy to stop.
The second batch of misconceptions has more to do with what you should do if you’re ever on the wrong end of a revolver. How can you stop a revolver from functioning and take it out of the fight? If you were paying attention, there were some adroit suggestions above–just ensure that your attacker drops the revolver on an open cylinder, or has poor trigger control.
But maybe there are more cinematic ways to ensure your safety?
Grab the cylinder and you can keep a revolver from firing
We have all heard the old CQB tactic that suggest if you grab the cylinder of an opponent’s revolver, the revolver will not fire. Well let me tell you there are 2 problems. First, if the revolver is cocked this will not work. Second, you have to keep holding onto the revolver.
If you are in a cartoon this may work (like plugging the barrel with your finger). Your attacker with the revolver may do things to make holding onto the cylinder difficult, like a simple quick tug back in towards his body.
Will it work? Yes. Is it practical–hells no.
- Hook you finger behind the hammer
I have been told this is good if you are at contact distance. Question, what if the gun has no hammer? Or what if it is already cocked. This seems like a possible but not probable.
If you can get a hand on the gun, you can lock it down. A finger behind the hammer of a single action revolver will slow it down. And with a double action, there’s the outside chance that an attacker could break something internal trying to pull the trigger.
Will it work? Yes. Is it practical–not so much.
Put your finger behind the trigger
I have seen this on movies and the gun-store-lore would have you believe this fool proof. I have a few problems with this one. Again what if the gun is cocked? What if my finger will not fit? How do I get my finger in-there without getting shot. This again seems easy to show at the counter at the gun shop, but at night being robbed? Hardly.
Will it work? Yes. Will you end up with a broken finger? Likely. But maybe that’s better than getting shot.
Revolvers are rarely the best choice for most new shooters. Instruction is the best choice for a new shooter. Revolvers, especially for self-defense, require more training for new users to be proficient with them. Small wheel guns have rudimentary sights. Their light weight means lots of recoil. And the 5 or 6 round capacity can be a detriment. As if that weren’t enough, the revolver is more difficult to reload, and people who carry revolvers aren’t likely to carry extra ammo.
Semiautos deserved their dubious reputation, and for a long time. Not today. The modern auto is, as a rule, just as well suited for self-defense as a revolver. So there has to be something else driving the popularity. It has to be more than nostalgia.
In the end, for me at least, it comes back to nostalgia. There’s something romantic about a well built revolver. The list of potential pitfalls listed above is easily mastered. Train with your gun, and keep it clean. Practice reloads. Handle it respectfully, and it will last much longer than you.