The single action crutch

Of all the comments I made on my two recent revolver posts, the two have stirred up the most responses are my insistence that a proper fighting revolver be equipped with a laser and that a fighting revolver should be DAO. I’ll deal with the laser in a later post, however I will say this: no one has ever presented to me a convincing reason to not have a laser on a defensive handgun.

Clark Custom Security Six (200x150)

Now, on the DAO issue – I look at the SA function on a defensive revolver as some kind of evolutionary dead end. It’s like wisdom teeth for your gun – you don’t need them. We still have SA notches on defensive firearms because people don’t want to learn to shoot a gun in DA mode, because that’s hard or something. Let’s take a look at some DAO revolver shooting.

Not a single time would I have benefited from shooting that gun single action. The same goes for every single other revolver match I’ve shot; even “hard” shots. Shooting it DA is better. That argument is what really gets under my skin – that the SA function on a DA revolver is for “harder” shots. I call BS on that. If you can’t make the shot with the gun’s DA trigger pull, you don’t need to engage bitch-mode on your gun, you need to HTFU and get better at shooting you revolver in DA.

Single action does have a role however on some guns. It’s great for teaching small children the fundamentals of marksmanship with a rimfire revolver. It’s good on hunting guns too I guess, but if I’m going to shoot a large caliber revolver single action, I want to do it with a proper single action revolver, like a Ruger Blackhawk.

The crazy thing is that getting good at shooting your revolver in DA is one of those tasks that can be accomplished 99% in dry fire. A DA revolver is like a machine built for dry fire. Just dry fire the snot out of that thing until you can pull the trigger without disturbing the sights. As a bonus, you’ll also develop forearm strength, which is useful for things such as “shaking hands like a man.”

Don’t let the vestigial evolutionary tail of single action hold you back. Lace up your boots like a big boy and learn to shoot your defensive revolvers better in double action.


  1. “If you can’t make the shot with the gun’s DA trigger pull, you don’t need to engage bitch-mode on your gun, you need to HTFU and get better at shooting you revolver in DA.”

    “Single action does have a role however on some guns. It’s great for teaching small children the fundamentals of marksmanship with a rimfire revolver.”

    “As a bonus, you’ll also develop forearm strength, which is useful for things such as “shaking hands like a man.”

    “Lace up your boots like a big boy and learn to shoot your defensive revolvers better in double action.”

    ***DANGER DANGER*** toughest gun writer in history detected

    Awesome post though.

  2. usually I agree with what you have to say but once in a while you run off the reservation on your personal likes or dislikes as in this instance.Try as you might you could not make a logical comment on how a wheel gun is any the worse because it is DA/SA it is just a pet peeve for you and some others but is in no way detrimental to the function of the pistol.

  3. I dont see a reason not to have single action. I can use it if I want to, ignore if I dont. The sp101 had a bobbed model that you could shoot dao or half raise hammer and pull it to the sa notch.

    Although, the only wheelgun I have is a vaquero so……

  4. I have been an expert DA revolver shooter my whole life. As a state trooper in the 70’s I cut my teeth on a S&W model 19. But as age has set in and arthritis has decimated my hands I have to use the SA function on my revolvers. If a gun is DAO I might as well just pick up a stick. So when you call someone a wimp for using SA you better make sure who you are talking to.

  5. Mas Ayoob’s discussion of the single action revolver in LE, the transition to DAO revolvers and then Safe Action pistols all for safety assurance and litigation avoidance was enough to convince me that DAO was the right solution even if I don’t want to spend the money to have the notches or spurs removed.

  6. His point isn’t to not shoot SA. It’s that SA has no place on a defensive/carry revolver. You are not likely to have the luxury of cocking the hammer first in most situations where you’d need it.

    If you can only fire a revolver in SA, you shouldn’t choose a revolver as a carry gun. There are plenty of SA only weapons out there that would fit that role much better in that case.

  7. “The crazy thing is that getting good at shooting your revolver in DA is one of those tasks that can be accomplished 99% in dry fire.”

    This is one of the reasons I recommend a double-action revolver for the novice who just wants something for personal protection. The dry-fire manual of arms for a DA revolver is the same as actual use. This is not true of semi-auto pistols, a fact which seems to escape a lot of folks on internet gun forums for some strange reason.

    Somebody who doesn’t have the time, funds, and/or inclination to go to the range can do 99+% of the training they need to at home with a double-action revolver.

    Yes, anyone can learn to use a Glock or 1911 or whatever. But we gun nuts often forget that not everyone is into guns as we are, and are not looking for a new hobby.

  8. I agree there is no NEED for single action capability for a self defense DA revolver, if that’s all it is. I’m resolved not to use SA in that situation. I don’t require a “stop me before I hurt myself” rework of DA revolvers which work fine as they are.

    Some folks self defense revolver is also a hunting or long range target shooting revolver they may wish to shoot single action.

    I don’t see any downside in having both capabilities.

    1. The downside would be a gun with SA has a hammer that can snag on things, unless it is shrouded and then it is much harder to shoot in SA.

      DAO revolvers cannot be accidentally reholstered cocked. You cannot accuse a DAO shooter of having cocked the weapon and “accidentally” discharged the weapon, rendering a potential self-defense shooting a negligent shot (I don’t know how likely that is, but I suppose it can happen).

      John Oddum, if you are not capable of shooting DA then this post obviously doesnt apply to you.

      1. Yeah, OK. i wouldn’t want an exposed hammer on a revolver to be pocket carried. And if I chose to have a full power revolver for primary carry, I’d prefer it be DAO.

        That said, millions of people carry 1911’s, Beretta 92’s, Hi Powers, CZ’s etc., hammers and all and seem to do fine.

        i was actually thinking of the millions of people who might not CC, aren’t especially “into” guns, but have a .38 or .357 as a “house gun” for self defense and occasional recreational shooting.

  9. My mother is 76 and lives alone. Although in good physical condition, due to arthritis, she cannot run the slide on a full size autoloader or accurately use the double action on a revolver. She uses a Charter Arms 38 that I gave her and can fire it very accurately and quickly in single action mode. It is not as fast as double action shooting, but she is much happier having a “full size” gun than going down to a smaller caliber firearm. So for some people, single action shooting makes sense.

  10. This post sets up another interesting topic for discussion:
    Does anyone really benefit from a 2lb trigger on a SA competition pistol?

  11. The SA could have defensive value in the home. Pumping a shotgun while someone is in your home often causes them to flee. No reason the same effect can’t be accomplished moving a revolver’s hammer to SA. With a DAO gun, your only option is to fire the gun.

    There are also lots of people big on the 1911 for the home. Don’t think most keep them cocked and locked while lying about the house.

    1. I’m able to make that shotgun pumping sound with my mouth which comes in handy when I don’t have an actual shotgun around to scare off intruders.

    2. That shotgun pumpy thing is the nazz in Hollywood movies and TV. Just hope you don’t short stroke it or get shot in the middle of your sound effect.

  12. You say that “Shooting it DA is better.” but you don’t explain why it’s better beyond the strength. Could you please quantify and explain why DA is better (or SA is worse) to those of us who don’t know?

  13. I think DA/SA makes sense on a gun used for defense *and* hunting – which is pretty common for people who carry revolvers in the wilderness.

    Taking a longer shot at game certainly benefits from single action; but if a bear is after you, you can bet your ass you won’t want to have to cock the hammer before each shot.

  14. My S & W 1955 Target Rev. has 2 distinct detents? and 2 ever so slight clicks just before the hammer falls in DA mode. U couldn’t feel or hear them in rapid fire but you can in SA mode with enough practice. You can use DA like firing in SA with that handgun. Can’t say about other Rev/s’, but after many Hundreds & Hundreds of rounds over the years it becomes second nature to me for that gun. Laser grips are fine. Didn’t have Laser Diods back then when we made “em, only Laser tubes suitable for rifles of .22Cal. light recoil. They would get hot and crack w/heavy recoil and, or knock the Mirrors out of alignment. Were expensive, .24K gold plated.

  15. I agree people should train shooting da but sa is a capability thats nice to have. And I dont see a need to spend time and money having guns worked on to remove it. If guns sold dao, im happy. If da/sa still am. I can choose which capability ill use.

  16. Yeah, Ed McGivern, Elmer Keith, Skeeter Skelton, Jeff Cooper & Charles Askins were all wrong…Good thing you have set the record straight…

    1. Ed McGivern is famous for shooting double action revolvers fast. Elmer Keith and Skeeter are famous for shooting single action only guns. Jeff Cooper popularized a semi-auto. Charles Askins was a proponent of DA revolver shooting. So you have listed two people that agree with me, and three people who have nothing to do with what I’m talking about. Nice try though.

      1. Elmer Keith was famous for a lot of things. Including favoring and recommending DA revolver shooting for self defense before any of us and most of our fathers were born.

        He was preaching the value of two hand hold and sights at eye level for all shooting when Col. Cooper was in grammar school, and decades before police departments stopped teaching the “FBI crouch”.

  17. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and hot have it.

    Training, more than action type, is the critical factor in defensive shooting.

  18. Caleb, could you comment on your GP100 setup for IDPA? I’m specifically interested in what you are using for your holster and speed loader setup as I’m considering moving into SSR and am new to revolver shooting.


  19. Skeeter used his 5″ 27 and 4″ 24s SA to shoot bad guys game and when matches. Elmer is also closely associated with the registered magnums the 38-44 HD/Outdoorsman and and you may not be aware the M29 He used thes DA S&Ws SA to kill game. Ed McGivern Shot Da’s SA and DA, As DID Askins and Jordan. And Col Cooper.

  20. “Killing game.”

    Yeah, you people seem really confused, because I’m not talking about hunting. I’m talking about defensive use. Just because someone used a gun in SA doesn’t mean they advocated for that practice when training and shooting in self-defense.

    If people want to use SA mode for hunting, whatever. I’d still rather they learned to shoot their DA guns better.

  21. Really the only reason to leave SA on a defensive handgun is if you don’t buy a different gun for everything you want to do with shooting.

    SA is better for hunting, silhouette, bullseye, and teaching. It doesn’t really get in the way much if you use the same revolver for defense.

    If you’re carrying a full size revolver for defense… honestly, you already made the decision that you wanted a jack of all trades, old fashioned weapon. There’s really no solid reason to be carrying it instead of an M&P or a Sig if defense from 2-legged critters is its only purpose.

  22. Arguing about the evolutionary leftovers on any kind of revolver strikes me as hilarious. Kind of like the percussion cap muzzleloader enthusiast berating the muzzleloader geek for being ole’ fashioned.

  23. DA/SA on a defensive revolver may be a pointless evolutionary vestige, but paying extra to remove a feature that, while I do not use it on those guns (and right now, my cartridge revolvers are all “defensive”, not hunting or target guns), seems a waste of good ammo money since retention of the SA notch affects the reliability nor forces me to use it.

    I wouldn’t object if my next revolver was DAO (hell, my “midsize” CCW pistol is a DAO Sig semi, and I shoot it just fine), but I won’t pay extra nor do I want a totally rounded off bobbed hammer (I want enough of the spur to positively stop a retention strap from rolling off.)

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