Don’t give up your revolvers

Revolvers, my favorite tool for self-defense and competition, are obsolete. It’s something I’ve touched on in the past, but the fact of the matter is that for practical self-defense concerns, anything you can do with a wheelgun you can likely do better and easier with a modern semi-auto pistol.


My favorite revolver, the Ruger GP100 is a gun I’ve been carrying for a considerable amount of time now. I like carrying it; and because I actually enjoy shooting revolvers, I’m far more likely to actually train with a revolver than I am a semi-auto. However the reality is that my GP100 weighs about 1,000 pounds, holds a third of the rounds that a similarly sized semi-auto carries, and doesn’t really offer that much more in ballistic advantages. Sure, I can load it up with 200 grain hardcast bullets, but there aren’t a lot of bears wandering around the streets of Sioux Falls, SD.

So while the full size K and L frames, or the Speed Sixes and GP100s may not have as much to offer as they used to, where does the revolver still shine? For regular folk. See, I tend to associate with serious shooters – people who make the shooting sports either their career or their central hobby. Serious enthusiasts, .mil folks, and LE officers dedicated to the craft are going to have an entirely different performance envelope in mind than someone whose primary hobby is skiing, but also wants a gun for self defense.

Now before you people hang me for trotting out the old “just get a J-frame” saw, that’s not what I’m doing. It’s the 21st century, and “just get a J-frame” should be replaced in every possible instance with “just get a Glock 19.” But there’s something to be said for the utility of the small, concealable revolver. Nearly everyone via cultural osmosis knows how to work it. It’s durable, reliable, and can be neglected in terms of care and maintenance and yet still function when called upon.

Yes, it has its drawbacks. It really is the weapon of an expert, because it’s difficult to shoot, has tiny sights, a heavy trigger, it’s impossible to reload quickly for an amatuer, doesn’t carry a lot of rounds and is either too big and heavy for pocket carry or too light for sustainable practice.

But most people aren’t going to practice. Most people who want a gun just want something to stick in their night stand and maybe carry “when they go to a bad neighborhood” – so for those people I say “get a revolver.” In fact, I want all of those people to buy revolvers, and here’s why: in 6-18 months when they need some kind of cash, they’ll sell that revolver, and it’ll go on the used market. Then someone like me will see a lightly used 638 for $300 bucks and go “oh hell yes I need that.”

So there you go. If you’re not really interested in the craft of marksmanship and just “want a gun” don’t buy a Glock 19. There are enough of those out there. Buy a wheelgun, so I can buy it secondhand for a steal.


  1. “…someone like me will see a lightly used 638 for $300 bucks and go “oh hell yes I need that.”

    That’s where mine came from.

  2. I still love revolvers. I carry a semi auto, But for the un experianced, Like you said, Revolvers are great. I still keep one in the night stand.

  3. I never get those deals. I always hear about them afterwards, as its being rubbed in. No doubt revolvers require a dedication that most shooters just don’t have. I know very few that actually carry that Glock 19, unless they are going to the range or a BBQ. Heck most rarely shoot as little as once a month. Pocket .380s or 9s are the norm amongst friends. For me, a revolver like my SP101 is a lot faster on the draw than a little semi.

  4. Tdubb, I mostly find my ‘good deals’ on GB, less frequently no Armslist. Like most (I suspect) I basically research specifically the make/model I’m committed to while squirreling-away the cash I’ll need to back up my bid. Once that’s in place, it’s basically a waiting game. Sometimes it takes a couple months, but eventually the object of my desire ‘pops’ up somewhere, & I pounce on it.

    Armslist sellers invariable ask w-a-y too much for their “only 100 rounds through it” used guns. Cash in hand is a rady cure for unrealistic expectations, especially when the holidays roll around & people need cash. My last was a used S&W 640 (.357) with crimson trace LG-405 grips for $515. That’s easily a $780-$800 package ‘new’, maybe more.

    1. Do you have a local “Craigslist” variant? up here has a gun section. Some people holding on to their pot’s o’ gold but also some good bargains, picked up a 2″ Mdl 10 for $100 for instance. It’s like the actual gun shows used to be before table fees drove out the little guys and the internet let everyone know what things are worth. Seller to buyer avoids the gun shop consignment fees as well.

    2. Ugh, Caveat Emptor when it comes to online sales though. Earlier this year I bought a sweet looking Colt Trooper III from some lying weenis in Idaho and wouldn’t you know it, when it got to me it was *badly* out of time, which for a gun with sintered metal parts which are nonetheless hand-fitted at the factory is basically game over. I ended up reselling it at a loss, so serves me right for buying a gun sight unseen I guess. My other experiences have been good but I’m wary of trying again.

  5. i have a ruger gp 100 and i shoot it more accurately than any of my semi autos. not much recoil with this gun and good sight radius.

  6. trotting out the old “just get a J-frame” saw

    When it comes to internet discussions about revolvers for self-defense, I just always steel something that Jason (of Armed Culture) wrote in response to “A Snubby For The Pretty Lady?“.

    Snubbies have a U-shaped utility curve.

    At zero experience the utility is high compared to other guns. You’re not going to be all that accurate with anything you shoot. At least you have a gun if you need it, and can reliably get 5 shots off at contact distances. There’s no safety to forget. It’s unlikely to malfunction unless it breaks, and it probably won’t break because you don’t shoot it enough to put any wear on it. And since you don’t shoot it, you never notice that it’s painful.

    At moderate experience, it’s a horrible firearm. It’s painful to practice with, the short sight radius and long trigger are difficult and frustrating. It makes a horrible and discouraging range gun. It’s only a matter of time until it breaks, or you give up. Hopefully you don’t give up shooting entirely, and just buy a proper range gun for range use, while keeping the snubby, because…

    At high experience, the snubby becomes a great firearm again. The trigger and sights are no longer an issue, you’ve learned to deal with them. You’ve lost your flinch and your hands have callouses. You own more than one gun, including all-steel revolvers that are functionally similar, but better for high-round-count range sessions. Having tried to conceal many different firearms, you deeply appreciate a handgun you can easily carry everywhere, and that has very few failure modes as long as you treat it with a little care.

    It’s really not about male vs. female shooters, it’s about whether or not they’re going to enter the middle of the ‘U’ at all, and if you do, whether or not you intend to move to the other side.

    I’ve seen good firearm trainers escort women who’d never touched a gun from one side of the ‘U’ to the other in about 2 days. There was crying and bandaged fingers at the bottom of the ‘U’, and I did not blame them in the least. But by day two, it looked like Linda Hamilton out there. Ever since watching that, I have felt that telling women that the .38 is not for them is almost a bit condescending.

    1. I typically don’t recommend the 638 to people who are inexperienced because it isn’t a good gun to take from one side of the U to the other, and that is where a lot of people are. Also I bought one and the trigger would not reset every time, which I knew enough to have a gunsmith sort out but an inexperienced person would not. The reliability and simplicity of revolvers is a myth. They require much more careful fitting that semi automatics and tighter tolerances. Also when they do malfunction, unless it is just a soft strike, they are extremely difficult to unjam. Revolver are specialized guns that are fantastic for those willing to dedicate the time to them.
      I sold mine and bought a shield which I really like. I did like having a true pocket gun though.
      Now I’m thinking about buying one of the new 929s because that thing looks like a whole lot of fun

    2. I think that part of the problem with snubbies is that manufacturers have gone over board on light weight. My smith airweight is that it is to light. I wish that Smith continued to make all steel J frames in 38 special and with full diameter barrels. A few ounces heavier would make the gun much easier to shoot and easier to conceal then my 640.

  7. I once bought a model 15 S&W for $100 (police trade in) just prior to the Brady nonsense being signed…stupid me sold it..for $200 after parkerizing it (sat in a cops holster too long, pits on the out side of cylinder) Dang I miss it!

  8. A loaded Remington 44 cap and ball qualifies for 156 years worth of obsolete, but a guy who got shot in the chest with one probably wouldn’t notice that.

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