Decided buying a revolver is in your future? Lots of people still love them, and for lots of good reasons. They were pretty much the only handgun outside of muzzleloaders and derringers until the end of the 19th century. And they then remained the dominant military and police sidearm until almost the end of the 20th century.
Believe it or not, the most proven combat pistol in history is not the 1911, nor the Browning Hi Power and certainly is not a GLOCK.
The Smith & Wesson Model 10 has been used by more military personnel and police worldwide than any other gun in a defensive capacity. You can do a lot more with the right revolver; handgun hunting is also a thing and plenty of competitive shooting is done with them, too.
A good example is accurate, reliable and many of them are ergonomically outstanding. The feel of a Colt Peacemaker’s grip is incredible. A smooth DA revolver trigger is downright joyous to shoot compared to so very, many lackluster striker-fired triggers, but I digress. Heck, revolvers look good too.
But what should you think about prior to buying one? Let’s run down a list of things to consider before purchasing a wheel gun.
1: Think about how you’ll be using it. Guns are tools, so be sure to select the right one for the task. Are you going to just be punching paper? Is it a home defense gun? Do you just want to get a big gun and make it go boom? Are you planning to use it for concealed carry?
It’s not that you can’t own a revolver for just the sheer pleasure of it; you definitely can and plenty of people do. It’s just that you want to pick an appropriate gun for the purpose you have in mind so you get the most out of it.
If you just want to see what the wheel gun thing is about, a .22 LR or .22 WMR is a great starting point. Heck, you can get a Heritage Rough Rider for less than $200. That will let you do lots of shooting for cheap and you get the full revolver experience (albeit in single-action with the Rough Rider, but still.) In fact, a .22 revolver is incredibly fun. While I have high regard for all of my guns, the one I love the most is an H&R 649 that’s old enough to grumble about “kids these days.”
Want a concealed carry revolver for self-defense? Snubbies like a J-frame, LCR, or Taurus 85 are great carry guns, as are medium frames such as S&W’s Models 66, 586 and 686 round-butt models, Colt’s new King Cobra, the Ruger SP101 and others. Just looking for an entry level gun in .38 Special or .357 Magnum? S&W still makes the Model 10, the Taurus 82 and Rock Island Model 200 are good budget options and you’ll never go wrong with a Ruger GP100.
2: Be careful about the magnum bug. A lot of people who have more money than sense get the idea that they want a BIG GUN that shoots magnum rounds even though the closest they’ve been to bear country was watching “Winnie The Pooh.”
Every person I know who owns or has owned a Smith and Wesson Model 500 – the most powerful handgun on earth – has one of two things happen. They either bought it for about 75 percent of MSRP after it had been fired only a few times, or they sold it themselves for about 75 percent of MSRP having only fired it a few times.
If you want a Big Bore Revolver, you had better be sure that you really want one. Rent one a few times or buy some ammo for a friend who has one and ask them if you can shoot it. If you’re still convinced it’s the gun for you, then go ahead.
3: Ammunition is probably going to cost you more. Outside of certain exceptions, ammunition for your revolver is going to come a little dearer than 9mm. While .38 Special and .357 Magnum aren’t ridiculously expensive (they’re about on par with .45 ACP and 10mm for a box of 50 FMJ) they are more expensive than 9mm.
And then you get into the big bores. Boxes of 20 factory rounds, even for range ammunition, usually run about $15 to $20 and boxes of 50 will start at about $30. Oh, and good luck finding much of it because even Cabelas doesn’t stock much .44 Special or .45 Colt.
Shooting something chambered in .454 Casull? Get a second mortgage.
Top Tip: “convertible” revolvers are a godsend in this regard. S&W N-frames in .45 ACP (as well as surplus M1917 pistols in that chambering) and any convertible revolvers that can shoot 9mm as well as .38 Special/.357 Magnum will help too. There is also the odd wheelgun in 10mm.
4: Your trigger technique had better be good. The long, hard double-action pull on revolvers has put off many a lily-livered Tactical Tom who’s been shooting GLOCKs all his life. The days when wheel guns were the dominant pistol were a more rugged time. Everyone wore flannel and yes, they wanted extra bacon with that.
The women were men. The children were men. The men, of course, were men, and probably would have been given to quoting “Scrubs” if it was on in those days.
Granted, it’s not that hard to learn. The double-action trigger pull just takes commitment. You squeeze hard and straight back. It’s like a tackle in football; you don’t make contact and then drive the ball carrier down. You hit through them.
Google “Jack Tatum” if you need visual reference.
With that said, shooting double-action will actually teach you better trigger habits and give you better control if you’re willing to put in the work. And yes, combat shooting with a revolver is DA only. That’s why guys like Bill Jordan, Charles Askins and Clint Smith grind the horns off their hammers.
5: Easy to shoot or easy to carry…pick one. If you’re considering a revolver for defensive purposes, you generally have to pick between easy shooting and easy carrying.
The easiest to pack are snubbies, and getting really accurate with one (most have less than two inches of barrel, small grips and a small double-action revolver trigger) takes a lot of practice. A .38 Special J-frame or LCR is lively and has a short sight radius.
A snubbie in .357 Magnum is all but unbearable. You can size up to a round butt medium-frame, but bear in mind that they are close in weight to classic Wonder Nines like the Beretta 92 and SIG P226 in size and weight.
That’s as close to a compromise as you’re going to get.
Guns like a Ruger GP100 or S&W Model 19 are easy to shoot and shoot well, but the larger frame, longer barrel length and heft (close to 40 ounces in weight) make them difficult to carry concealed. I love “Dirty Harry” as much as the next guy, but wearing a 6-inch N-frame in a shoulder holster is something I won’t do if I have a choice.
6: Get ready to fall in love. While the wheel gun is considered an anachronism by many these day, there is just something about them that gets people to keep buying them.
It’s like other older pistols like the 1911, Browning Hi Power and so on. While nostalgia is a selling point for some people, what’s also true is that there are inherent qualities that still make them very good guns.
Nothing is quite like the grips on a Single Action Army or one of its clones. The feel of an all-steel gun, the blued metal and walnut, it’s something else. They feel solid, substantial, and in a way that polymer-frame semi-automatic pistols just don’t. Some people get acclimated to the recoil of a magnum and never care to experience anything else.
They have a je ne sais quoi that you have to experience to appreciate.
But what do you think? Are you swayed to one side or another? Think it’s time the wheel gun went the way of the dodo? (You’re wrong, and get the heck out of my office. Pick up your last check and don’t come around here anymore!) Finally convinced of the truth that only blue cheese should be served with wings? Sound off in the comments!