Guns and Gear

The Revolver: In the age of the autoloader, some say revolvers are obsolete.

Mike Piccione Editor, Guns & Gear
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In the age of the autoloader, some say revolvers are obsolete. This writer ain’t so sure. I just got done with seven weeks and a little more carrying and shooting revolvers, coast to coast. I’ve already lost count of the powder horn jokes.

An instructor needs to be familiar with all the guns the students bring to class, so I carry a six-shooter for at least one training tour a year. For 2011, it was two tours; five weeks for one tour and a couple more for the next. A host on the first tour wanted me to shoot with his team at his state’s IDPA championship, and they were short a Stock Service Revolver (SSR) shooter. Once I got home there were only a few days before the next tour, which would culminate with the IDPA World Championships. I decided at the last minute that since for me IDPA stands for I Don’t Practice Anymore, instead of International Defensive Pistol Association, I might as well stay with the platform I’d been carrying, hence the second wheel-gun run.

Good News

Revolvers are less ammo-dependent than autos, and obviously not magazine-dependent at all. They’ll run anything from blanks to snakeshot to the hottest stuff it says on the barrel it’s chambered for. In almost two months and nearly a 1,000 rounds downrange, there were no ammo-related malfunctions. Power? An almost 40-year history tells us the Remington 125-grain .357 Magnum hollow points I had in the cylinders when I carried the guns “for real” leave nothing to be desired in that regard.

If you are in a belly-to-belly confrontation and have to jam your muzzle against your would-be murderer’s body and pull the trigger, most autos will be pushed out of battery and fail to fire. Not so with a revolver.

Round guns, by and large, are more accurate than square guns. Back in the late ’80s, the police department I then served became the fourth in the country to adopt the S&W 4506 .45 ACP. Those guns would do 2″ to 2-1/2″ for five shots at 25 yards. That was pretty cool… but the S&W Model 13 .357 Magnum revolvers we traded in for them could do the same at twice the distance. More than once in the four perfect-score qualifications and three matches during those seven weeks, one of my revolvers turned in the winning score, the best being a 60-shot timed qualification with about a 4″ group in Harrisburg, Penn.

While a cylinder is a distinctly smaller ammo reservoir than most magazines, and makes for a slower refill, this can be ameliorated by simply carrying a second revolver, which I always did (or a third, which I occasionally did). And, did I mention, history shows fewer stoppages with wheel-guns than with autos?

Bad News

When revolvers do malfunction, the malfunction tends to be harder to clear. I started the first tour with a vintage pinned and recessed S&W Model 19 that turned out to have a birth defect, resulting in trigger  return failures. I managed to overcome it in the first match, a local IDPA event, and win SSR division, but it was close and I had to switch to my backup 3″ Model 66 to finish. Thinking the 19 was fixed, I took it to the Washington State Championships, only to experience a time consuming lockup in my first event. Again I defaulted to the 66, which worked fine, coming in second overall/First Master, which are kind ways of saying First Loser.

And, of course, there are times when you do need more than six shots. At the IDPA World Championships—which demanded raw, flat-out speed and good accuracy—the top overall score was an amazing 248.29 seconds, posted by my Team Panteao teammate Bob Vogel, shooting in the Enhanced Service Pistol division where reloads are needed only after 11 rounds. Having to reload after every six shots, Jerry Miculek, whose trademark gun is a moon-clip-loaded S&W Model 625 .45 ACP Enhanced Service Revolver, captured that division with 411.79 seconds according to the preliminary scores online at this writing. Using speedloaders, current US champ Craig Buckland captured the Stock Service Revolver title with 426.79 seconds. I’m proud Craig is one of my graduates, since I can’t come close to him anymore, and now live through him vicariously. The point is however, even the best in the world get more rounds downrange faster with an auto than with a revolver.

On the second leg of my journey, I carried a Smith 686 tuned by master gunsmith Bob Lloyd. It won the SSR South Mountain Regional IDPA Championship for me in Phoenix in 2010, and a New Hampshire State Championship for me years before that, and could have won the world title in SSR division if the guy shooting it hadn’t been an old, slow sufferer of cerebral flatulence. The revolver itself worked perfectly and I always felt safe carrying it.

The bottom line? There are times when the revolver is better, and times when the auto is better, and no one has to apologize when carrying either platform. It’s up to the individual’s preferences based on perceived needs and threat profile and ability. The double-action revolver ain’t dead (no pun intended) by a long shot.

Editor’s Note: Massad Ayoob, the author, has been handgun editor of GUNS magazine and law enforcement editor of AMERICAN HANDGUNNER since the 1970s. He wrote this article for Guns Magazine, you can find them online at