Thinking of getting a concealed carry revolver? Don’t pay attention to the plastic pistol posse; revolvers are a proven handgun system and are still fully capable of saving your bacon. If you go into it with your eyes wide open, that is.
Let’s start with the chambering and why it’s more important than you might think.
The dominant revolver chamberings for compact to medium frame revolvers are still the venerable .38 Special and .357 Magnum. Some will carry a big bore round like .44 Magnum, but those are larger, heavier guns that are generally harder to conceal.
First, be sure to select a short-barrel load for your concealed carry revolver. Snubbies are notorious for yielding less terminal performance than a gun with a 4-inch or longer barrel. Therefore, be sure to select the appropriate ammunition for daily carry.
Speer’s 135-grain JHP .38 Special +P (the New York Load) was developed for precisely this purpose, as are a number of others.
You can also level up in power to .357 Magnum, but proceed with caution. Obviously, it’s a proven self-defense round and is quite manageable in a service revolver, such as a Smith & Wesson Model 19 or a Ruger GP100. But in a light, compact revolver such as a J-frame, Kimber K6S or Ruger LCR, it can be downright masochistic.
The recoil is so sharp that it defeats the purpose. The reason why 9mm has become the default handgun round is it has a near perfect blend of terminal performance, cost and shootability. Just about anyone can handle a 9mm, even in a subcompact pistol.
A .357 Magnum snubby just plain hurts to shoot. Sure, you get a more velocity and energy, but the increased pain of shooting it, balanced with the fact that there’s barely any difference in efficacy in real-world situations with modern ammunition and…what’s the point?
You make your own choice, but it’s a good idea to stick to .38 Special or 9mm for a small, lightweight concealed carry revolver. If you simply must have a compact maggie, get a compact medium-frame wheel gun like the Colt King Cobra or S&W Model 66 Combat Magnum.
You’ll spend a bit more and they’re heavier (usually around 30 oz. unloaded) but the gun will be far more manageable and pleasant to shoot.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s also consider some features you should consider. The basics of what you need in a carry gun are sights you can see and a trigger you can use.
If you’re used to different kinds of guns – say modern polymer striker-fired pistols – the longer, heavier double-action trigger is going to take some getting used to. Gun owners tend to prefer lighter triggers as a general rule (which is one of the reasons plastic pistols are so popular) so you need to commit to practicing the double-action pull if you aren’t used to it.
As for sights, that will vary by model and manufacturer. Some come with a simple steel blade or ramp front sight. Here, for example, is an older S&W Model 19 with an adjustable rear sight:
Notice these are blued steel sights. While not tiny, they also aren’t the most visible, depending on lighting conditions. By contrast, here’s the Ruger SP101:
Notice the front sight has a gold bead for extra visibility. As a result, the front sight on this revolver will be easier to see.
Obviously, the sights vary by model and manufacturer and so on. While you’re gun shopping, make sure you have a good look at the sights on the gun you’re interested in.
Can you easily pick them up in your eye and get a fast sight picture? Or does it take you an extra second? In a self-defense weapon, you want to get the sights on target as quickly as possible, so pay attention to them.
Keep in mind that lots of snubbies have a simple trench sight in the rear and a small blade in the front. These concealed carry guns are designed to be used in close quarters situations. That doesn’t mean sights don’t matter — they do — but short barrel revolvers like these aren’t often used for distances over a few yards.
Also, make sure you get a feel for the trigger pull in-person before buying. If you can rent the model you’re considering, shoot it before buying. If you can work with it, awesome. If the trigger is too heavy for you, stacks too much or is otherwise noticeably difficult to deal with and shoot accurately, you should move on to a different gun.
Commit to putting in some trigger time after your purchase. If you aren’t used to the double-action press, there will be an adjustment period. Dry fire practice is your friend here, so make time for plenty between trips to the range, especially at first.
It’s also a good idea to practice reloading your carry gun. Get a speed loader either the mechanical kind, or a speed strip. If your revolver shoots semi-auto rounds, get extra moon clips. It’s a good idea to carry an extra speed loader or moon clip (or two) with you, just as many people carry a spare magazine.
Is a revolver the best gun for self-defense? In an on-paper sense, they lose on capacity to most semi-automatic pistols. However, if you can shoot one accurately, that’s pretty much all that matters.
Is an assailant or home defender going to somehow care if they’re shot with a GLOCK or a Ruger LCR? Not likely. In practiced hands, a revolver is every bit as deadly as any other pistol.
Revolvers make a great first gun, since they’re rather fool-proof. Additionally, learning the double-action trigger pull can hone your technique. Anyone can shoot a GLOCK or 1911 rather well; it takes skill to be equally adept at SIG P365 as a Smith & Wesson 642.
But bear in mind, too, that a snubby like a J-frame or LCR has long been referred to as a master’s weapon, as it’s harder to get highly proficient with one as it is with a full-size semi-auto.
You’re going to need to put in the range time. Start slow, smooth and up-close and build from there.
In the right hands, a concealed carry revolver is absolutely devastating. So if you’re going to commit to this handgun system, make sure you’re getting in the reps and choose a good carry load.
Anything you feel like I missed? Something you want to add? Just angry in general and want to vent? Sound off in the comments.