You paid extra for double action

Things I do not get: people shooting small revolvers such as Smith & Wesson J-frames or the Taurus CIA in single action mode.  If you’re shooting a large hunting revolver in serious caliber that’s one thing, but the whole point of small framed revolvers is that they’re a fighting weapon.  Honestly, I feel like shooting your J-frame single action is doing nothing but teaching bad habits – if you need to use that gun in a fight and all you’ve done at the range is shoot average groups in single action mode then when the time comes you’re not going to have the range time to properly manage the DA trigger under stress.

That’s why I’m a proponent of double action only revolvers for personal defense, like the Smith & Wesson 638CT model pictured.  If you buy a revolver that is double action only, there is no temptation to shoot it in single action mode at the range for practice time.  We’ve talked before about how no one likes to practice things that they’re not good at, and that’s true for any shooter.  That’s why when you’re at the range and struggling with the double action trigger on a small frame wheelgun, it’s easy to give in to the dark side and pull that hammer back; believe me I know because I’ve done it myself.  But the problem is that when you pull that hammer back, you’re not training yourself for how you would use your gun in a defensive situation…which is why for some people the double action only gun is the best choice.

The 638CT pictured above does the shooter another favor by coming from the factory with Crimson Trace Lasergrips.  Just like the Crimson Trace equipped Ruger LCR, the laser grips give you an excellent defensive backup sight as well as a great training aid.  The best way to learn to shoot a double action revolver isn’t actually range practice.  It’s dry fire, lots and lots of dry fire.  Using the Crimson Trace, put the dot on a spot on the wall, such as a screw in a light switch or another small target.  Then dry fire slowly – the goal is to keep the dot from bouncing off the target.  As you get stronger, go faster.  You can do that same drill without a laser – just get close to the wall and use the screw or the divot as your aiming point, and dry fire until the sight picture starts bouncing off the target too much.

You don’t even need to do it excessively – try 5 “cylinders” of dry trigger pulls, do 3 reps with two hands, 1 rep strong hand only, and one rep weak hand only.  Do this regularly and the next time you go to the range with your double action revolver, you won’t be tempted to pull that hammer back to single action mode!


  1. I don’t have a laser on my S&W M442, but I do practice this same drill. Be sure to use snap-caps when practicing. An acquaintance cracked the firing pin on his M36 dry-firing on empty chambers.

  2. Uh, the 638 isn’t DAO. 😛 That said, I agree with everything else you wrote.

  3. As Jeff said, the 638 has a shrouded hammer that can be cocked. I also have the 649, its stainless big brother in .357, it offers the same shrouded hammer.

    I agree with everything you wrote, with the exception that there are never absolutes in firearms. I think single-action mode offers a few benefits in the right hands, even if the gun is for pure defense:

    1. When I allow new(ish) shooters to use my revolvers, it’s often the first time they’ve ever shot, or ever shot a revolver. To build their confidence I have them start by cocking the hammer.

    2. I compete in Bullseye with a 625, single action for 50yd slow-fire shots, and double-action for timed and rapid fire shots at 25 yards. But I love to play with my defense snubbies now and then….there’s nothing better than showing someone a 4″ group at 25 yards, or a 8″ group at 50 yards shooting a J-frame one-handed, without the laser on (granted, I use light-loaded wadcutters…)! Sure, 95% of the time I’m practicing with that gun as a defense gun double-action, to the point I forget that I can cock the hammer. But its a nice feature to have for fun at the range.

    But you’re right–for the twice-a-year to the range type of person, a hammer-less *642* is the way to go, and what I normally recommend to those folks:

  4. What I’ve seen is that the greatest obstacles to successful DA shooting are hand strength, specifically the strong hand index finger, followed by gun size.

    My club recently held our annual Ladies’ Day at the Gun Range event and the Revolver Stage was as it has been every year: of the about 40 women I saw at my station (we had 257 total guests, and there were 6 of us working revolvers) only a couple could fire DA reasonably well. The rest just didn’t have the hand strength, and hand-to-gun fit was an issue.

    I used my two Model 10 round butt revolvers, with small Pachmayr grips. Almost everyone had to engage the trigger with the intermediate phalange (between the 1st and 2nd joints, measuring from the tip) to get enough strength to DA (proper trigger engagement is with the center of the distal phalange – the center of the fingerprint) and female hands just aren’t big enough to do that (most male hands aren’t either) and “more finger on the trigger” requires rotating the gun in the hand, “breaking” the grip. Both 10s, BTW, have 8-9 lb greased glass DA pulls and everyone complained “it’s too hard to pull the trigger.” My 63 has small boot grips, just for this sort of thing, and about the same trigger (it’s harder to get a really good J-frame trigger than a K-frame); while the hand-to-gun fit was better, the “too heavy” DA pull was still an issue. Of the 600+ rounds my revolvers fired Saturday, maybe 60-70 were DA.

    I spent the day recommending the “Wal-Mart hand exerciser” – squeezing tennis balls with the fingertips and LOTS of DA dry firing for those who owned a revolver.

    One thing that did help a lot was a CT grip (on one of my CZ-75s), adjusted to be 5″R and 5″ low from the sights. When a guest didn’t seem to understand sight picture/sight alignment I moved them to the CZ; when the dot was consistently in the lower RH corner of the target I knew they had the concept (moving the dot off the bull forces them to use the sights and prevents them using the laser as a crutch; if the holes start appearing high left I know they’re looking at the laser, not the sights)

    Incidentally, if anyone knows of a really good single stack 9 with a DA/SA trigger I’d appreciate being steered to it. I use CZ-75s as student guns and the grip frame is too fat for most female hands; a single stack 75 would be perfect, but I can’t find anything like that.

  5. Incidentally, if anyone knows of a really good single stack 9 with a DA/SA trigger I’d appreciate being steered to it.

    Sig P225.

  6. There are a ton of german police surplus P6s (same as P225) floating around. A friend bought one from J&G recently but they seem to be out of them now.

  7. RE: the suggestions on the Sig 225; thanks. Anyone know if there’s something similar with a steel frame? More mass to dampen recoil would be nice.

  8. What do you recommend for an auto; SA or DAO? We can assume it’s not a conventional DA.

  9. I’m not Caleb, but I recommend one of the partially precocked striker DAOishesque guns. (There really needs to be a concise name for these.) I’m talking M&P (my personal favorite), Glock, XD, etc. Try them all and pick the one you shoot/like the best.

    The great thing about these is they’re all available in multiple sizes and calibers, so you can have all your guns feel the same. I compete with an M&P Pro (5″) and carry the compact (3.5″). A number of people I know do the same with the G34/G26.

  10. For an auto I recommend the gun that fits your hand and that you’re comfortable shooting. If that’s a DA/SA GP6, a 1911, or a Smith & Wesson M&P, then that’s awesome. I’m not married to a particular action system, nor do I think that one is inherently “better” or “worse” than any other.

  11. Would you actually use a DA/SA with no decocker as a carry gun? I only load any gun pointed at a safe backstop, but I think that’s just asking for it.

  12. Whoa!
    You mean to tell me you can cock a revolver with your THUMB?
    What’ll they think of next?

  13. I’m assuming my Smiths have single action notches on the hammers, but I’ve never really checked.

  14. For fun, I sometimes shoot at bowling pins from the bench at 100 yards. S&W Model 28 Highway Patrolman, 4″ bbl., using single action. That’s about the only time I use the SA sear.

    Usually with 148 gr. hollow based wadcutters, I’m on for about 4 hits per cylinder. That’s using the head of the pin for the aiming point. I’m about 4.5 hits per cyl. with 145 gr. Winchester Silvertips, but at today’s prices, that’s rare practice.

    It’s not that such shooting is great training for this or that tactical situation. It is that such shooting is awfully damn good for one’s confidence at more imaginable ranges. It’s what helps get a box of 50 rounds into the X ring of the B-27 target when fired double action at 10 yards, and that with a reasonable cadence of fire, not “slow fire” by most standards.

    The extreme range, the resulting precision when shooting “square range” type target shooting, all help to hone-in those basics, so that shooting and moving, shooting from cover, etc., etc., may all be built upon a very, very well foundation of accuracy.

    Aim small, miss small, as the riflemen say. Sound advice for the pistolero, too.

    And yes, I do also practice double-action/accuracy as fast as I can get the cylinder to spin. Jerry M. has it exactly right; the front sight IS the throttle.

    Now if only I could reload as half as fast as he does, I’d still have the fastest reloads in the club. But I can sure get that first cylinder-full out there muy pronto. Kinda sucks after that, but hey, I’m workin’ on it.

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  15. Forgive me for repeating a post I’ve made elsewhere during the SA/DA discussion, but it’s still as pertinent as when I learned it from reading Col. Cooper 35 years ago.
    Changing between actuation methods, thumb-cocking and trigger-cocking, will inevitably result in confusion and indecision under stress.
    As someone who’s officiated at many an action pistol match and who shoots plenty of revolver, (“B”, USPSA… with a Webley), I’ve seen it countless times among the less-competition experienced revo shooters: on the line, during the action, the offside thumb going up and down like a flag in a tornado while the stressed-out shooter thinks about whether it’s a long shot needing SA, or a regular shot needing DA.
    It’s worst among the expatriate cowboy shooters, as they’re so conditioned to do it.
    Oddly, I don’t detect any superior accuracy resulting for these folks, but precious seconds tick away while the thumb flies and the master grip shifts and loosens and tightens in response.
    In the case of someone using a sixgun for personal protection, this could be a deadly decision time.
    I must also submit it reduces confidence in double-action shooting, that single-action is an accuracy-improving resort.
    So come down to the ICORE match at Oak Park SC in Plainfield, IL, on 5-30 and see…
    Or go up to Niles, Michigan for the monster Wheelgunner’s Revenge at Bend of the River in July.
    My apologies for the proselytizing.

    1. No apology necessary – I’ll be at the Revenge this year rocking the new Retro division!

      Gun Nuts Radio

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