It’s easy to overlook the classic revolver design. Today, semi-automatics are the go to for most general applications. However, there is still an argument to be made that the revolver is a viable option when considering a firearm for self-defense. Plus they still hold a special place in the firearm community - shooting a wheel gun is a unique experience. So much so that many firearms enthusiasts often have a special affinity and prefer wheel guns.
What is considered a Revolver?
The basic definition of a revolver is that it's a repeating handgun that uses a revolving cylinder that has usually five or six chambers (six-shooters) each being able to hold a cartridge. Manually cocking the hammer of the revolver partially rotates the cylinder, indexing the chamber to the barrel until it is fired. Cocking revolvers is done by pulling back the hammer (single action) or pulling on the trigger itself (double action). Most modern revolvers are usually double action. The earliest revolvers were single action, think Samuel Colt’s Colt Walker Six Shooter and other “Cowboy guns”.
Why The Revolver?
Revolvers have a simple design, with fewer moving parts compared to semi-automatics. Fewer moving parts means enhanced reliability which means that a revolver is less prone to malfunction. Because of the simplicity of the design, that also means most revolvers are durable. Again, fewer moving parts means that manufacturing can be concentrated on the frame and the parts used in the overall construction of the firearm. A durable frame and durable parts mean that it can withstand harsh conditions and extended use.
Revolvers Keep it Simple
The Revolver is one of the simpler firearms to operate. Once you understand the straight-forward operation of a particular revolver, that’s it. You know how to operate the firearm, a user-friendliness that is especially welcomed to novice firearm enthusiasts. This simplicity also contributes to its ease of maintenance. Maintaining a revolver is generally easier than a semi-automatic, giving you a no-nonsense experience.
There’s Power Behind that Simplicity
Let’s talk a bit more about the revolver’s design, more importantly, where the cartridges are kept. Semi-automatic pistols keep their cartridges in the magazine, which typically inserts within the grip. Revolvers keep them in the cylinder, which is forward of the grip. Which means, there’s an upper limit on how large semi-automatic cartridges can get before the gun gets too large to hold. Think Desert Eagle, which not many people can hold comfortably. A revolver, meanwhile, can come chambered with something massive like .500 S&W and can still have comfortable grips.
Revolvers are a top platform for shooting powerful rounds and hand reloading
Magnum rounds, like the 357 Magnum and 44 Magnum, are iconic and are only able to be shot out of revolvers(and lever guns). These rounds are a ton of fun to shoot. Plus, the extra powder and resulting velocity and terminal ballistics make them great choices for defense and hunting.
The Ruger Redhawk, for example, is one of the revolvers that every shooter should know about. It is built like a tank - designed and engineered to handle stresses above and beyond what you typically experience with factory 44 Magnum ammo. This makes it a top choice for handloaders who reload their own rounds - whether to push the envelope, or to save a bit on ammo costs.
Revolvers are Versatile Too
Unlike semi-automatics, which are usually designed for a specific caliber, some revolvers can chamber various cartridges-- a revolver chambered in .357 magnum can also be loaded with the shorter .38 Special, with other revolvers going further (such as the Medusa Model 47).
Revolvers such as the Tarus Judge or the S&W Governor which has the ability to fire both .410 shotgun shells in the birdshot, buckshot or even specialized defensive loads, as well as .45 colt and .45ACP rounds through moonclip. This versatility allows them to be used for different purposes. Consider the Judge’s compact size or the Governor's ergonomics and grip options. Also their ability to mitigate recoil, which makes both firearms adaptable to various situations.
What about versatility through legal means? One of the key benefits is the general legality of the revolver. In all fifty states, it is legal for law-abiding citizens to own a revolver. Even in places like California and D.C. where things can get restrictive, revolvers fall below the magazine capacity limitations.
A Good Choice For Personal Defense?
Despite the lower capacity compared to a semi-automatic, revolvers are still favored among some when it comes to self-defense. The snub-nose design, for example, also offers the ease of concealment due to their smaller size. Coupled with their known reliability, and you have yourself a good concealed carry weapon. With that being said, our preferred load out will always include a few speedloaders full of high quality defensive ammo, coupled with lots of training to speed up reloads in a defensive situation.
Does that mean revolvers are still relevant?
Just on the reasons presented here, there’s an argument to be made about the relevancy of the revolver even with modern firearm innovations dominating the market. In the end, what makes the revolver relevant is if it interests you, whether the case is you enjoying firing them or they suit your overall self-defense needs.