When your wheelgun “jams” you’re totally hosed

Recently, I’ve been excoriating the sacred cow of “revolvers don’t jam,” because it’s utter nonsense. That being said, I love wheelguns and I still carry one, simply because my enjoyment of the platform means I’m more likely to actually go shoot the gun. Which leads me to the story of why my carry gun, a S&W 640 Pro Series, is currently a paperweight.

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On Tuesday, I had the chance to head out to the range with Stephen Pineau of M3 Strategies and the guys from Lionheart Industries to shoot the LH9 pistols. While there, I also sighted in the CTC lasergrips on my j-frame for my carry load, the Double-Tap 158 grain LSWC +P. Because it’s a cool gun and I was planning on shooting it, I ran 2 boxes of ammo through it, also letting the other attendees shoot it a little. At the end of the day, I noticed that the cylinder was a little sluggish when out of the frame, but the gun worked fine. So I loaded it back up, holstered it, and carried it for the remainder of Tuesday and all day Wednesday.

Last night, I wanted to do some dry fire reload training, so I pulled out the dummy rounds and some speed speeds, unloaded the gun, and did a reload. I noticed that the cylinder wasn’t rotating at all, and had a hard time going back into battery. If the cylinder won’t freewheel when out of the frame, that indicates there’s fouling in a place that’s hard to clean without tools. Once the cylinder is back in the frame, the trigger pull is increased by about double to get the thing to move.

My theory is the reason the gun was fine while I was shooting it was everything was nice and hot, and still fairly loose. After the gun had time to cool, the combination of +P and lead bullets meant that a lot of fouling has deposited in a part of my gun that I can’t clean without tools. It could also be an internal parts breakage, but I doubt that. A huge collection of fouling is a lot more likely. Unfortunately, because I’m on the road and not for a match, I didn’t think to bring a cleaning kit with me, so until I can get home, my gun is an expensive paperweight.

I’m considering walking over to Bass Pro Shop next door to my hotel room and picking up a cheapo cleaning kit just to pour solvent down the thing and hope it breaks up some of the crud. The moral of the story is revolvers are just as sensitive as semi-autos, and no amount of “just pull the trigger again” (the common refrain of fools) will fix this gun. I was going to shoot this gun and ammo at IDPA Bug Gun Nats, but now I might shoot Shelley’s Colt Cobra instead.

25 thoughts on “When your wheelgun “jams” you’re totally hosed”

  1. Wow, Tam was on and managed not to post about her recent post about jumping crimp and its impact on revolvers (and in some circumstances, semi-automatics)?

    1. Wow, Tam was on and managed not to post about her recent post about jumping crimp…

      Yeah? And? It didn’t seem germane to the discussion, which is about fouling. If the post had been about jumping crimp, I might have tossed in a link to an existing post rather than re-type everything.

  2. But… it doesn’t matter if revolvers are dirty. Or a spec of powder gets under the extractor star. The internets told us so.

  3. My revolver caveat has always been “My wheelguns almost never fail except when it’s a maintenance or ammo issue”. True for 32 years of regular use, true today.

  4. Revolvers work great…right up until they don’t. I have never had a jam in a semi-auto that I couldn’t clear(unless it was a squib or a broken extractor). I have, however, had several jams in revolvers that required tools and bench time to clear. If you are in the middle of a string of fire when that happens, you are pretty much screwed.

  5. Funny, we did an article about this back in the 90’s for Gungames!!

    Revolvers DO Jam, don’t get caught with your Pants Down,

    The Cover Photo was Vick Picket at a Surrender position with his shorts, and complete ICORE Rig around his ankles and wearing a Red/White/Blue Stars and Stripes Boxer Shorts that he still owns to this day!!

  6. Revolvers require more maintenance than modern auto loaders, especially if you train with the typical lead reloads. Keep a revolver clean, know those areas you must not lubricate and those you must and you can depend on it for the first cylinder full. Trying to reload a revolver under stress it’s easy to not get that cylinder vertical and end up with powder under the star besides the difficulty in just getting it reloaded. My strategy has always been to have a strong plan b if the first cylinder full doesn’t get the job done.

    Back in the day, 1970’s revolvers shot heads up against auto’s in the “Combat” matches that became IPSC/USPSA, in fact at my local club it was about 50-50 auto’s to revolvers. One of my first matches I saw a guy go for a reload with his Ruger Security Six and in the heat of battle he bent the extractor rod completely down around the cylinder. He was frantically trying to get the cylinder closed in the frame when the RO stopped him.

  7. I have found Gunscrubber often works great at “fixing” this sort of thing until you can get a good detailed cleaning.

    Those of us who carried wheeguns daily, back in “the day”, are not shocked by the info in this article.

    1. Chuck brings up an important point: Lots of people blabbing about revolvers these days didn’t actually spend a lot of time using them as their primary defensive arm. There’s a lot of specialized revolver-specific information the guys from the revolver days picked up that has been largely lost on the current generation who cut their teeth on semi-autos. There’s a reason why so many guys from back in “the day” were not the slightest bit hesitant to turn in their wheelguns for a good semi-automatic pistol.

      1. As recently as the late-’80s/early-’90s I knew guys who thought that Jeff Cooper guy was some sort of radical hippie for liking a 1911 when everybody knew that the best CCW gun was a 3″ RB/HB/FS K-frame and not some newfangled jamomatic. They made a big impression on early-20s me.

  8. Revolvers jam? Today seemed like a great day to shoot my .45 Colt Vaquero. My range visit was cut short when the firing pin began staying too far back, blocking the rising transfer bar and keeping it from being cocked. Blasts of brake cleaner and oil do no good. The firing pin moves freely and the gun goes “bang” if you ever get it cocked. If this was an issue with just about any semi on the planet, a few minutes and maybe some tools would get it running again. Unfortunately, this design incorporates a crosspin that is artfully blended into the side contours of the revolver. Fortunately, Ruger has quick turnaround on their repairs, as I’ve found in the past.

  9. I ran into the same problem. Was just a little bit of grit that had gotten into the action somehow. Stopped the whole thing about every third trigger pull.

  10. FWIW “pour solvent down the thing” has worked for me before. I changed to jacketed ammo after that, problem solved. I kinda wish BB would load a hot .38 (to traditional .38 velocities, i.e. beyond what we now call +P) with Gold Dots or something.

  11. Been shooting my S&W 625 for 9 years and i can recall only 1 jam …the cylinder jumped out from the frame because the screw holding the crane got loose, now i check on that area regularly in competition. I used to shoot a glock 27 in competition …yup! A 27 as an RO and i had jams on that gun so many times until the breach face finally gave way..it cracked! I sent a letter to glock and they responded that my practice of dry firing it 30 times dailly without a dummy was abussive. A 1911? I Had experienced jams …can’t count! I say jams on revolvers against pistols happens 1 out of probably 50! Hurray to revolvers, specially my carry gun the ruger LCR.

  12. My every day carry is a S&W 340 PD. I have fired less-expensive .357 rounds (aluminum cased) and witnessed the remaining rounds in the cylinder lengthen by what I call bullet-creep–which if extreme enough can jam the cylinder. S&W also stipulates that that gun should not fire less than a 120 grain bullet, which I think is for the same reason.

    Moral of the story: buy high-quality defensive ammo and shoot what you carry.

  13. Back when we issued model 66s, and allowed personal .357s, we couldn’t run a 60 round qual course straight through without someone on the line having some sort of issue. Tom Givens talks about this in his instructor class as he had the same sorts of experiences. Our instructors commonly had to keep a tooth brush in their pocket to get the powder gunk out from under the ejector star for shooters running the course. It was common to have to shoot the first 30 or so rounds and then take a break, brush off a bunch of the guns on the line, then continue.

    Not to pick on Michael too much, but his example shows how one guy’s experience is often different that that of someone who has observed 300+ shooters on the range over the course of several weeks of training.

    I have found service grade semi auto pistols to be vastly more reliable and durable than revolvers. I’ll add though that I find J frames to be a more reliable and durable choice than the pocket autos.

  14. It is possible that residue is the problem however a loose extractor rod is common tighten it by hand counterclockwise and see if it gets better good luck

  15. I have had several revolvers “jam”. Occasionally a bullet advances under recoil. This is usually with handloads, but it did happen once with factory. I also had two cylinder/ejecter parts failures, one totally incapacitating the gun. Both were S&W’s. I’ve ever had only two semi auto pistol fail where clearing the round, from whatever cause, didn’t get it going. One was a Taurus 92. A pin broke (I sent it back and it was fixed and returned in a jif. Great customer service) disabiling the hammer. The other was a Chinese Makarov. Bad mags that wouldn’t feed.

  16. I mentioned before my experience with failures being primarily ammo or maintenance issues. I should expand that a bit to include gun handling skills specific to the revolver, such as ejecting straight down, and routinely cleaning my personal revolvers after use. As to mechanical failures not due to my failures, I can recall three: one time, a hammer nose broke after several hundred thousand rounds.through a 686, the other two both were total lock-ups due to that damnable trigger lock on a 657. In the ’80’s, I recall my own experience and that of many others trying to get 1911’s to run HP ammo; usually requiring a gunsmith. Learning curves continue on each platform.

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