Revolvers for new shooters

Everyone is talking about snub nosed revolvers for new shooters.  Here at Gun Nuts, we have beaten this topic to death.  I even have an article coming up in US Concealed Carry Magazine on this various topic that looks at issues such as grip strength, trigger pull, and shootability.  However, instead of rehashing over 3000 words and quite a few articles, I will simply re-print this quote from Tiger McKee.

Most people think revolvers are easy to shoot and operate, and for some reason they think this is especially true for women shooters. This is simply not the case, regardless of the shooter’s gender. The trigger on most revolvers is longer and heavier than the majority of semi-autos. – Tiger McKee

Tiger is right.  If there is one thing I learned from firing over 10,000 rounds through a revolver last year, it’s that these things are hard to shoot well.


  1. My thoughts exactly. On a forum I frequent, I made this post, when someone requested what the best pistol was and received the requisite “Revolvers work every time”:

    I watched two ladies in an introductory pistol course with revolvers that could neither safely operate the pistol either DA or SA. Once a suitable semi auto was located, they were putting holes in paper at 15 yards. Revolvers don’t always work.

    I got the following comments:
    They were doing it horribly wrong then.

    i would love to see those same two ladies take apart a semi-auto, clean it, then reassemble it. if they are that dumb, we’ll see them in the news over an AD.

    I simply don’t believe someone couldn’t operate a revolver.

  2. Revolvers work all the time until the trigger return spring breaks (done that), you get a piece of crud under the ejector that locks up the gun (done that), you have a faulty round of ammo that can’t be ejected (that too) – you get the idea. I love revos, but there is a lot of mythology built up around them as defensive firearms.

  3. They both have their pros and cons, especially if you lack hand strength or have arthritis.

    DA triggers on most of these revolvers are long and stiff, making accuracy a mess. The slide can be hard to rack on semiautos.

    But I’d prefer a new shooter to get a feel for accuracy and then work up to racking the slide rather than the other way around.

  4. The problem with that line of thought is that it’s VERY difficult to wring accuracy out of a DA revolver when you’re a new shooter and you shoot it DA. If you’re allowing them to shoot a DA revo single action, then you’re actually hurting their development as a shooter.

  5. But if it’s a new shooter that’s never shot before, wouldn’t it be better for them to use a semiautomatic than a DA revolver so they can get a sense of accomplishment by actually hitting the target, then after they get some confidence, move them to a DA revolver? That’s more the point I was trying to get across.

  6. It doesn’t help that the trigger pull on snub nose revolvers tend to be even heavier than on their larger counterparts,

    I was thinking about a Ruger SP101 for my first gun. When I actually shot them side by side, I ended up going with the much larger and less concealable GP-100 because the trigger felt 10x better on it.

    That said, I do like not having to worry about whether it will hate the ammo I found on sale; and while the pull is heavier the overall feel is still a lot nicer than any stock Glock I’ve shot.

  7. By the way, if you’re working with a really new shooter… how is shooting a revolver SA going to be hurting their development? Sight alignment and trigger control are more important than split times when you’re starting out.

  8. Aaron, yes I agree. I believe that new shooters, regardless of gender should ALWAYS fire their first shots through a .22 LR semi-automatic pistol. It’s easy to shoot, low recoil, and generally have a simple manual of arms.

    People like being rewarded for their actions. If you start someone with a .22, they’re more likely to hit their target, which gives them that “reward” factor of feeling like they’ve accomplished something. Once that’s established, then from there hand them a bucket full of different guns from different manufacturers and let them go to town and find out what they like.

  9. Agreed on the .22LR Caleb. My Ruger MkIII is my go-to gun to introduce new shooters to the sport. It’s got a fairly long sight radius, and a smooth trigger. Combine that with the negligible recoil, it’s a great introduction.

  10. Mike, I don’t believe that DA revolvers should ever be shot Single Action. With a new shooter, once you start that bad habit of “taking the easy way out” and shooting the gun SA, it’s only going to be that much harder to fix it later. If you want to shoot single action, get a single action revo.

  11. “If you want to shoot single action, get a single action revo.”

    This statement makes no sense to me. Do you think it’s a bad habit to shoot .38 specials out of your .357, too?

    Now, while I agree that double action shooting should be practiced almost exclusively once single action is mastered, for single-shot accuracy shooting the revolver in single action is giving you just as good practice of the fundamentals as a .22 semi-auto.

    I fail to see how doing this with one gun instead of buying two is building bad habits… I bought a .357 magnum specifically for its versatility in that regard. If I never practiced with full power magnums shooting double action and then proceeded to load them for self defense, I would be a fool, but that doesn’t mean the other modes aren’t useful training tools the same as they would be if I had separate guns for them. Shooting single action on a revolver, again for slow fire accuracy shooting, is not significantly different from firing a 1911.

  12. If it’s a DA/SA semi-auto, I’d lean towards “no”. The reason behind that is a new shooter should have the chance to experience the DA trigger pull and decide if it’s something they like.

  13. I do believe in shooting .38 Specials, because that’s not creating a bad habit.

    I’m just saying that when I ascend to rightful place, all DA revolvers will come from the factory with the hammer bobbed off.

    I actually have an article coming out on this very subject in a forthcoming issue of US Concealed Carry magazine. In short, I believe that the negatives of shooting a defensive DA revolver in SA mode far outweigh any benefits. If you want a light, crisp single action trigger there are plenty of guns for that.

    Now, this rule is narrowly confined to defensive DA revolvers. I don’t care if someone is shooting a Ruger Redhawk in SA mode, because that’s a different application.

  14. I guess it’s a question of: are you learning the methods of fighting with that specific gun, or are you developing general principles of marksmanship. I would argue that with a new shooter, you are progressing from the latter to the former.

    Shooting a revolver SA will teach trigger control and sight alignment as well as practicing with a 1911’s SA will. It will not teach you how to shoot a revolver in a combat setting, though, whereas it will with the 1911. I don’t see how it’s developing bad habits, though, as it will still be teaching you how to shoot a 1911 in a combat situation, and neither would be helping you shoot a DA revolver better.

    As far as “should you buy a DA revolver to use as your first defensive weapon”, I agree with you.

    On a “should you, when teaching a new shooter to shoot, never use SA on a DA revolver. And therefore, never use a revolver, because they’re harder to shoot DA and will be harder to learn” I disagree.

  15. Honestly? I intentionally steer people away from DA revolvers. They are not easy to shoot well, and require a significantly higher amount of practice than say, a Glock 19 to learn to be proficient with.

  16. I taught my wife to shoot my 686 with .38s With a 4″ barrel her first 2 shots were almost touching. Distance was 5 yards.
    A .22 may have been better but I didn’t have one. I taught sight picture and dry firing before live firing. It worked.
    She shot SA at first then transitioned to DA. Was able to hit target with both.

  17. “I believe that new shooters, regardless of gender should ALWAYS fire their first shots through a .22 LR semi-automatic pistol. It’s easy to shoot, low recoil, and generally have a simple manual of arms.”

    I have a Ruger Mark III standard with a six inch barrel. It’s so easy to shoot and so accurate that it almost take the gun out of the equation. It makes it very easy to diagnose the problem, whatever it is, with a new shooter.

    My buddy has a Sig Moquito – not so easy to shoot. I gave his wife the Mark IIi to shoot and now they have one of their own!

  18. One guy I know that got his CCL said there was a woman in his class that had a .357 snub. She had a very tight grouping….right above the circle.
    So she, of course, failed the test.

    I have a .22 LR single-action revolver..but I want to someday have a .357/.38 DA revolver with at least a 4″ barrel…just because.

  19. So why is the DA trigger pull on a snubby revolver as heavy as it is? Why can’t it be designed to be less heavy.

    Why is the trigger on my S&W model 10 so much smoother than my S&W model 642? Designed that way perhaps….

  20. Snub nosed revolvers are sprung differently than full frame revolvers – the smaller spring is generally harder to compress than the springs that are available for K, L, and N frame guns.

  21. We should all just carry 2″ Rhinos and be done with it.
    Or bring back the Mateba Autorevolver.

  22. I haven’t done much teaching, but when I have, I’ve always started with my S&W Mod. 14 in .38Spl.

    There is a drill that I like to teach to all new shooters, that’s a lot easier with a revolver than an auto.

    I load one round into the cylinder and leave the rest empty or filled with fired brass. I then tell the student to dry fire at the target until the round goes off. I find this drill really brings out any flinching or recoil anticipation problems better than dry firing an empty gun. Because, the student knows the gun could gun could go off every time they pull the trigger. I still use this drill myself sometimes when I practice.

    I know this can be done with an auto if you use dummy rounds, but the dummies are one more thing that you have to remember to bring to the range. Racking the slide to eject the dummies also slows down the drill and scatters your dummies all over the place.

    I also find the long trigger pull makes it easier to learn to use an even trigger squeeze, rather than a sudden jerk.

    I agree that no one should learn on a snub nose, or any sub compact for that matter.

  23. A DA snubbie is fine for defensive work, where you probably will be measuring the distance in feet, not yards. If you can’t point and shoot and hit a man sized target at under 10 yds perhaps you should just carry a baseball bat instead of a gun.

    Several years ago I was shooting with a friend at an indoor range, this was before I got into handguns I was mostly a rifle shooter back then. He let my try his 1911, WW2 vintage Colt, sadly stolen a few years later. We hung a thug target and ran it back to 50 feet, the max range there, I jerked the gun up and fired a full clip as fast as I could just for fun.

    Never aimed.

    He bet me I didn’t even hit the paper. Every one was on the thug, made a nice diagonal line from his right hip to left shoulder.

    Reason I remember that was it was my first time shooting a handgun other than CO2 pistols.

    Luck? Dunno but I’ve always been pretty good at point and shoot. Used to “practice” point shooting with a CO2 revolver and our local cricket population. I kept them pretty much in check, and a center hit with a 177 cal pellet on a big cricket is awesome for a kid!

  24. I love my 9mm Glock and, honestly, have enough of a challenge to shoot accurately with the open sights. (Perhaps due to my bifocals.) Its light and easy to clean and break down. I’m experienced and would never want to even try to be accurate with a snub nose, let alone give one to a novice. Way too frustrating!

  25. When I started shooting some eleven years ago, I chose a semi-auto, a year later I bought a Glock 17L. A few years later I tried to shoot a revolver. Much too complicated! Two modes of the trigger, possible interaction of one hand’s thumb, more moving parts. No, I cancelled that experiment after a box of ammo.

    And for newbies? Semi-autos in .22 to get them started, then switch to 9×19.

  26. Odd how it works out. Thirty five years ago when I was learning to shoot handguns I listened to the experts who all told me 1911 so I bought a 1911. I finally learned to shoot it but I never liked it. If I hadn’t tried a Ruger Security Six a year or so later I’d have given up on handguns. About 20 years ago I listend to the experts again and bought a Glock 19. It was the only gun I liked less than the 1911.

    I still have few semi-autos and I’ve gotten better with them — the Kimber is actually prettty good after a lot of practice — but I use them mainly to help newbies learn. Sure the 22 semis are a good place to start but so is a 617.

    When I shoot for just for myself I use a revolver.

  27. Caleb said:Snub nosed revolvers are sprung differently than full frame revolvers – the smaller spring is generally harder to compress than the springs that are available for K, L, and N frame guns…

    Correct. But why doesn’t some enterprising young man or woman invent a better spring for the revolver? (I”m not young nor enterprising).

    Can you imagine a J-frame with a K-frame trigger pull? Ahhh, sweet!

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