Wrapped around an axle

I’ve had a couple of people ask why I get so passionate about the whole “shooting DA revolvers in single action mode” issue.  And at times I’ve overstated my case a bit; but I’ve also written multiple posts on the issue, had an article published about it, and generally speaking I actually do care quite a bit about it.  With that much brain sweat invested in an idea, the natural progression is for the idea to evolve and grow as I encounter new theories.

The central thesis of the “shoot it DA” line of reasoning is as follows: If you cannot effectively manage the double action trigger on a defensive revolver to the point where you need to shoot it single action, you should get a different gun.  It actually ties neatly in with my theory that snub nosed guns are not ideal for new shooters, specifically because of the heavy trigger pulls and short sight radius.

The reason that you should be able to manage the DA trigger on a defensive revolver effectively is because it is the fastest and most efficient way to get the revolver in to action in a dynamic critical incident.  This is where the proponents of the simplicity of the revolver are 100% correct – there is no easier weapon to learn the manual of arms and to administratively load and unload than a DA revolver.  Similarly, it’s a very easy weapon to get in to action; with no manual safeties to disengage, it’s just a matter of pulling the DA trigger to the rear and watching the sight.

Using the SA mode on a DA revolver is slower, and if for no reason other than that it should be avoided.  But as I said in my CCM article, it also creates a bad “training path” in your mind.  If the balloon goes up and you’re armed with a snub nosed wheelie, odds are you’re going to shoot it double action.  Since you’re responsible for every bullet that leaves your muzzle, you want to be as proficient a shooter with that DA trigger as possible.  If you’re sitting there thinking “what if I have a tight shot or something, should I go single action then?”  No, if you’re anticipating making tight shots under pressure, I’d suggest practicing DA on low probability targets, like a 3×5 index card at 15 yards.

Now, previously I’ve said you should never shoot any DA revolver single action.  I retract that statement.  It has been pointed out to me that a Smith & Wesson 617 (the K frame .22)  is a phenomenal teaching tool for new shooters, and is really easy to manage in single action.  That’s cool, shoot that SA because it’s not a defensive revolver.  Same goes for hunting guns; most of which will be shot single action in the field.  Although if you’re carrying a Ruger Alaskan as a bear deterrent, I’d suggest getting good at DA shooting while running away.

Of course, the final reason I say to shoot it DA is because if you can run a DA revolver trigger, you can run any trigger on earth.  After a couple thousand rounds through a DA revolver, a Glock trigger won’t seem so bad any more.


  1. Great Post! You cleared everything I disagreed with you on!

    I teach new shooters on my 617 and I have them fan the hammer so they get a nice crips light pull that won’t distract them from their grip and sight picture.

    When I shoot my 617 (which is all the friggin’ time) I do it double action because its a training gun and I’ll shoot my defensive revolvers double-action-only (My 642 gives me no choice!) and that long trigger pull makes the SA trigger on my 1911 feel that much more crisp.

    Shooting a DA revolver well translates better than many might think to shooting a SA gun well.

    1. Yep… I’d say I have no problem with the first 100 shots of someone’s training being in single action, because dealing with the trigger pull muscle memory isn’t really your biggest concern yet. Once they aren’t flinching the gun completely off the target and understand the concept of sight picture, go home and do a million dry fires as double action and do almost 100% DA training from there.

      Of course, it’d be ideal if you were doing that starting training on a .22 instead of a .38 special pistol, but sometimes you train with the gun you have. That’s really my only disagreement with you on this, Caleb – that when you’re teaching someone to shoot you have to have a second gun for the “SA is easier to shoot at first” basic training to be useful.

  2. Caleb,

    training time and quality being equal, is a double action actually faster?

    just finished watching Stan Lee’s superhumans featuring Bob Munden is why I ask.


  3. A couple of discussion points:

    1.) After a couple thousand rounds through a DA revolver,

    If you’re shooting a couple of K of ammo, you are no longer a n00b. Trouble is that most people don’t even shoot a few hundred rounds of ammo.

    2.) Lately you’ve talked so much about revolver trigger pull. Let’s stop and examine the premise of a snubbie: Made for A.) lazy cops who didn’t want to carry a fullsize, but had to have something… or B.) guys like Fitz who needed a shorty for “belly distance”, when they were expecting trouble.

    The reality is that most people are trying to shoot bullseye or PPC with a snub without looking at the parameters that the snub really fits into. The point of the whole rant is that it is more than just neglecting DA pull – it is neglecting the entire premise of the idea behind the snub – and if examing point 1, the entire purpose to having some mastery over the defensive firearm in the first place…

  4. Your argument in favor of DA for defensive purposes makes so much sense it’s hard to imagine how anyone could rationalize using SA for defensive training. Naturally, self defense situations are fast and thinking is inherently slow.

    I gotta say, though, that your philosophies on shooting a DA in SA remind me of some of your other posts that show how focused you are on your specific genres of the shooting world. It makes sense that you see the world through the sights of the kind of shooting you know best, but sometimes I think it leads to turning a blind eye on the rest of the shooting world.

    Keep up the good work though. I love your blog.

  5. If, in an actual gunfight, one has time to go single-action, then I’ve no doubt that some crapweasel lawyer (be it District Attorney or goblin’s personal injury shyster), will absolutely find time to rip you to shreds in court. Unless your gun is an SAA or such, that is.

    Having time to manually cock the revolver, and then cooly squeeze off a Camp Perry shot on target, kind of negates that whole “immediate threat” argument.

    Perhahps one could imagine an exception along the lines of taking out some demented mall-shooter at 60 yards from across the food court, but I’d think that’d be a vanishingly rare scenario.

    That said, I’m with Weer’d on using SA in the basic marksmanship stages. For brand-new shooters, it’s a valid step on the learning curve.

    Still, I try to get even them onto DA shooting after 20 rounds or so. If they’ve had proper chalkboard and dry fire “pre range” training, it should only take about 20~40 rds of SA for them to validate that “oh, I really can hit the target!”

    Pretty much everything after that should advance to DA shooting, or up to semi-auto basics, if that’s their intended handgun destination.

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  6. Caleb, you’re rationale is sound, especially when discussing “defensive” shooting. Back in the at the turn of the eighties, when .mil CT teams still used wheelguns (USN, GIGN, GSGN notably), doctrine was first shot single action, cocking pistol as you punched it out, and DA thereafter. Definitely works for first shot accurate hits. My muscle memory is so ingrained, that that’s how things still work. In those days we had Bill Jordan, but no Jerry Miculek. Great posts! Keep up the good work.

  7. “If the balloon goes up and you’re armed with a snub nosed wheelie, odds are you’re going to shoot it double action.”

    No. Odds are that you are going to shoot it how you trained. Which means that if you take the slower SA path in training, you’ll use it that way in action more often than not. Whether that’s a detriment to you depends on how fast you need to use the gun and whether you hit anything with it DA.

  8. That assumes that you’ve invested enough training to actually create muscle memory. Going to the range and shooting at a bulleye target in SA mode isn’t really training, and if that’s the bulk of your practice then you’re not going to have developed the muscle memory to effectively deploy that gun in single or double action mode. There seems to be an opinion that’s incorrect in my estimation that “any shooting = training”, and I just don’t believe that’s the case.

  9. Caleb,

    Since you are so young, limber, and spry it may not have occurred to you that not everyone else is.

    One of my first students was a very petite woman in her 60s and she had arthritis. Being able to defend herself was very important to her because she was a judge. As she put it, “Some of my ‘customers’ are not happy with what their actions have bought them.”

    She could not pull a double action trigger and she could not rack the slide of a semi-auto. She simply did not have the grip strength. Extensive practice was only going to inflame the arthritis–not improve her situation.

    She could cock the hammer of a revolver using the palm of her hand. Her rate of fire was very slow but it was greater than zero.

    1. No, I get and recognize that. Like I’ve said, there is no perfect solution for everyone, and in that situation I’d agree that the solution isn’t my personal preference, it is certainly better than nothing. Although, I have found that people who lack the strength to either rack the slide of an auto or manipulate a DA trigger are often perfect candidates for guns such as the Beretta Jetfire and Tomcat with the tip up barrels. While not the best solution, it’s certainly better than nothing.

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