Concealed Carry & Home Defense

CCW Weekend: The Return Of The Compact Revolver

Brandon Wexler shows a customer one of the weapons that she was picking up at the end of the three day waiting period at the K&W Gunworks store on the day that U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, DC announced his executive action on guns on January 5, 2016 in Delray Beach, Florida. President Obama announced several measures that he says are intended to advance his gun safety agenda. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters

In the 1970s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation finally designated their first standard-issue duty gun: the Smith and Wesson Model 13 in .357 Magnum, with a 3-inch barrel and round-butt frame. The Model 13 was essentially a budget Model 19, much as the Model 15 was the fancy upscale counterpart of the Model 10 in .38 Special.

The Model 13 is/was a compact revolver, which was small enough for concealed carry and plainclothes law enforcement use, but not so small that shooting one worth a darn was an expert’s affair. The line for many years has been that a snubnose revolver is a master’s weapon, but 4-inch guns are – obviously – not the easiest pistols to tote on a daily basis.

While the wheelgun is never going to be the dominant pistol system ever again, the compact revolver – NOT the snubby – is making something of a comeback.

Smith and Wesson has been slowly adding more to their K-frame lineup. Part of Colt’s resurrected King Cobra line is a 3-inch pistol. At this year’s SHOT Show, new compact revolvers from Taurus and Rock Island Armory have emerged, in .38 Special and 9mm respectively.

It would seem the idea is somewhat catching on, again, and the thing is it should.

While it is something of a matter of opinion, the compact revolver – rather than the snubby – is in many ways more ideal as an implement of personal protection, and for a number of reasons.

First, a “compact revolver” is definable as a medium-frame revolver optimized for easier carrying and concealment, as opposed to a service revolver which is obviously not made with concealment in mind at all. Not breathlessly easy, but easier. The typical recipe is to round off the butt to reduce printing and shorten the barrel to around 3 inches, maybe even down to 2.5 inches.

A 3-inch barrel is long enough for reliable performance from .38 Special and .357 Magnum self-defense rounds, or at least more reliable terminal performance than 2-inch (or shorter) barrels are known for producing with practical ammunition.

Most snubbies hold 5 rounds, compact revolvers tend to hold 6. Not an earth-shattering increase, to be sure, but when capacity is limited due to it being a wheelgun, one more is one more.

Lastly, and this is the important part, the longer sight radius, longer grip and extra beef in the frame make them easier to shoot accurately and quickly than a snubby revolver for most people. And that, when it comes to a gun you’re using to save your bacon (or someone else’s) is the name of the game.

Some people prefer the simplicity and ruggedness of revolvers to semi-autos; there are still some wheel gun devotees out there. A .38 Special in the hands of someone who really knows how to run it is nothing to trifle with. Not everyone wants a black plastic subcompact striker gun, after all.

What do you think, though? Have you ever owned or done much shooting with a compact revolver? Sound off in the comments.

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Sam Hoober is a Contributing Editor to, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit