5 Advantages of the Revolver

5 Advantages of the Revolver
Even in this age of the polymer wonder pistol, the revolver has some advantages that are not easily dismissed.

Revolvers are Efficient

The revolver’s first advantage is efficiency; the revolver requires no manipulation of the gun beyond operating the trigger in order to fire. There are no extra buttons or levers to push, which means that there are no buttons or levers to forget to push.

I’ve watched even highly-trained and experienced shooters forget to deactivate the safety on their autopistols when faced with a new and distracting shooting challenge. I’ve also seen them forget to activate that safety and negligently discharge their guns. These aren’t people who are new to the guns, either. I’m talking about people with hundreds of hours of formal training, some of them police officers who are tasked with training their fellow officers. The more complicated something is, the easier it is to forget something when you’re distracted.

Revolvers are Reliable

Part of the revolver’s legendary reliability is the fact that it will function with any ammunition in its caliber; autoloaders, in contrast, are often very picky about bullet weight, shape and velocity.
Part of the revolver’s legendary reliability is the fact that it will function with any ammunition in its caliber; autoloaders, in contrast, are often very picky about bullet weight, shape and velocity.

Another major attribute of the revolver is reliability; the revolver will generally have a longer mean time between failures than that of even the best autoloaders, meaning that it will shoot more rounds without having mechanical issues that affect its operation. Of course that’s not to say that revolvers never malfunction, only that they do so less often than a self-loading handgun. What’s more, most of the malfunctions that can occur are easily prevented through proper technique or maintenance.

Part of that reliability is the fact that the revolver will shoot a much wider variety of ammunition. With an autoloader it’s necessary to thoroughly test the gun with any specific type of ammunition because they are somewhat picky about bullet weight, shape, and velocity. Many experts hold that an autoloader should be tested with 200 rounds of any ammunition that you expect to use (which today would run into an awful lot of money).

Revolvers Will Fit Anyone

The revolver, more so than the vast majority of autoloaders, makes it easy to get a good fit simply by changing the grips. Because the revolvers’ grip size and shape isn’t dictated by the need to fit a magazine, there is much more leeway in how big or how small the grip can be made. In many cases it’s possible to take a revolver which doesn’t fit the shooter well, make a grip change and end up with a combination that works well.

This is true regardless of whether the gun is too small or too big for the hands. Larger and smaller grips are available, and in extreme cases it’s possible for a gunsmith to modify the grip frame to make an even greater change.

Revolvers Don't Use Mags

Of course, there are no magazines necessary to operate the revolver, which is an often-unappreciated advantage. Magazines are the weak spot for the autoloading pistol – they’re fragile, they wear out, they’re expensive and you have to remember to bring the darned things!

The Revolver Trigger is Heavy

A very real advantage in an adrenalin-charged incident is the long and heavy trigger offered by the revolver. In the confusion of a defensive shooting, there is the very real possibility that fingers will stray into the triggerguard, and there are enough videos of trained police officers inadvertently discharging rounds when in a tense situation – sometimes resulting in death. I would never suggest relying on a heavy trigger as a safety device, but must also acknowledge that it does provide another layer of protection to even the best safety habits.

This article is an excerpt from the new book Defensive Revolver Fundamentals by Grant Cunningham. 


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  1. I came up with 19 Advantages of a Revolver

    1. I don’t have to chase my brass at the range.
    2. I don’t have to bend over my fat belly to pick it up.
    3. I don’t have to check to see if it’s the right caliber.
    4. I don’t hit my neighbor in the next booth, or myself, with spent brass.
    5. I don’t lose (misplace) magazines.
    6. I don’t have to load magazines, and my thumbs are happy.
    7. I don’t have to clear jams.
    8. I like making the guys shooting the wimpy 9mm guns jump when my .357 or .44 mag
    goes off!
    9. I’ve been through the “spray and pray” phase in my younger days, and now rely on
    shot placement to get the job done.
    10. You don’t go through your ammo as fast, and you get to enjoy more time shootin’.
    11. I don’t have to remember how to take the blasted slide off and disassemble the gun
    to clean it. Too many pieces.
    12. I don’t have to put all those pieces back together.
    13. Cleaning a revolver is easy, and they are all the same.
    14. It takes three seconds to disassemble a single action revolver, and you’ve only got
    three parts: frame, cylinder, and pin.
    15. The grip is always a nice, comfortable size because you don’t have a magazine
    running through the middle of it.
    16. You can completely change the looks and feel of the gun by changing grips: rubber,
    wood (so many to choose from), ivory, micarta, smooth, checkered, finger grooves,
    gunfighter, etc., etc., etc.
    17. And not only is it “All American” but it’s intimidating as hell when you pull out a N-
    frame S&W, or a Colt Anaconda, or a big mama Ruger SA or DA revolver. Something
    about a revolver just says, “Bubba, I’m about to put a hole through you big enough to
    park my pick up.”
    18. When pointed at someone, they can SEE that cylinder full of ash trays ’bout to come
    their way, and they’ll believe that story about the pick up.
    19. I know my .41 mag, .44 mag, .357 mag, .44 Sp., or .45 Colt will accomplish #17. The
    only automatic round that will do the job right is the All American .45 ACP (thank
    you John Moses Browning). I hear the 10mm ain’t half bad, and S&W makes a
    revolver for that, too.

  2. I keep a revolver next to my bed so that if the boogie man kicks in my front door in the middle of the night and God forbid I have to take lethal action I don’t have to wonder what is going to happen while I’m still trying to wake up. The great thing about a revolver is when you pull the trigger is goes bang.

  3. It’s amazing how some folks thing revolvers are archaic. They couldn’t be farther from the truth. As a NV / UT CCW Instructor, I have several revolvers in my class and talk about the advantages and disadvantages between both the semi-auto and the revolver. Take a semi-auto out of battery and forget about launching those very expensive life-protecting rounds…revolvers don’t have this problem

    Semi-automatics will ‘disassemble’ themselves with high power supercharged magnum rounds, but big revolvers eat them like skittles.

    I carry an compact XD .45 ACP (10 rounds) with a 13 round reload…my backup? A Smith and Wesson 642 also with a reload. Your contingency plan has to be more reliable than your original plan and a revolver more than meets that need.

  4. Initially I was uninterested in owning a revolver, it was all about the semi-auto that would hold 10 rounds or more in 9mm and of course possibly owning the venerable 1911 as well. One day someone mentioned the “Cadillac” of revolvers (as they called it), said I should try one, I’d love it. I did and they were absolutely right. The piece was the S&W 686 (38/357), I bought a plus version (7 rounds) in 4″ barrel and also own an 8 round model with 5.5″ barrel. These are without a doubt, wonderful to shoot and I never go on a back country trip without a revolver and a semi-auto as well. Since then I have also bought a model 629 (44mag) with a 3″ barrel, this is also incredible to shoot, though a bit more to handle. If you haven’t shot a revolver, the 686 is a good place to start or a comparable size and caliber by any of the other top gun makers out there.

    • I could not agree more. I have scores of autos but love shooting my revolvers above all. I have been shooting for about 45 years both alone and with my friends and I can tell you the last thing you would ever want to do is go up against one of them and their revolvers. Deadly. I too have just acquired a S&W 8 shot from the performance center that is outstanding. I still love my autos, especially Sigs and Browning HP, but when I hear something go thump in the dead of night, I pick up my S&W .357 first. A capable shooter who is also confident is a very dangerous man. I see so many young shooters with “spray and pray” auto shooting efforts. Their greatest joy seems to be how fast you can run through a clip. I think everyone should start out on a good revolver. It forces you to be more deliberate on each shot ( too much reloading if shoot too fast) which in turn makes you realize just how accurate you can and should be with any hand gun. Once you then take up a high capacity auto, you now expect to hit what you aim at with each shot because you know you can.

  5. I grant you, there are drawbacks with the pistol, but the advancements in technology has greatly shortened the gap, and in many areas, give it great advantages over the revolver.

    Not so anymore; the manual safeties on some pistols may create problems under stress, but the new generation of hi-cap pistols such as the Glock, the XD, the M&P, et.al, have washed that away. Both the revolver and pistol have to be loaded, and whilst the revolver needs the crane closed, the pistol needs the action cycled to load a round in the chamber. After that, they both require only a single long pull to discharge, which will be addressed later. The XD has the added benefit of a grip safety, which no revolver has.

    Nowadays, that is not necessarily true; many autos will function for thousands of rounds between malfunctions, due to police dep’t and military reliability requirements. The 200 round requirement is now generally to break in a new pistol, and after that, pretty much any kind of ammo will feed without a hitch. Many, including the XD, has gone the extra distance to drop the weapon off a two-story building onto cement, and not only did it fire reliably, but it was then run over by a loaded army truck while still on concrete, and yet still fired reliably. I highly doubt the delicate clockwork of any revolver withstanding either of those tests, let alone both together. The clockwork on any revolver is quite delicate; if it is too worn, or slightly damaged, the revolver will either shave off part of the bullet at the forcing cone, making it highly inaccurate and hazardous to anyone standing to the side of the revolver, or it will simply not function, and lock up.

    Granted, ammo is important in an auto, but I personally saw some poorly reloaded ammo jam up at least three revolvers before they had to give up on it. My wife went through two rented revolvers in her CCW quals before getting one that would fire even in single-action. All of the pistols functioned flawlessly in our class. Generally, when a pistol is worn out, its accuracy is greatly affected, but will still function reliably. Unless it is a Beretta, they generally will not break up or fly apart.

    I’ll grant you that one; the grip on a pistol is dictated by the ammo used, and the magazine capacity. Some have removable panels to grant some adjustability, but still, you have to test pistols to see which ones fit your hand right. The greatly lamented Dan Wesson revolvers could be fitted with any conceivable shape that you could fit over its 1/2in dia. grip post/hammer spring frame.

    Which by many is considered a disadvantage; under stress, unloading/reloading a revolver is generally considered a stressful, difficult, time-consuming procedure. With a pistol, push the mag release with your thumb, slap in a fresh mag, thumb the slide release and you’re back in action. Speed loaders are bulky and quite difficult to manage under stressful situations. Todays magazines are generally quite tough and durable, lasting for thousands of rounds, and their price is comparable to a speed loader, which only holds 5 or 6 rounds, making the cost/round on speed loaders quite expensive. I negate the remembering to bring the mags quote, because you have to remember to bring ammo or speed loaders for a revolver, too. And the revolver runs out after 5 or 6 shots, where most pistols are good for over double that.

    Then there is that old saw, which says that no-one who’s been in a shooting incident wishes that they had less ammo.

    The revolver trigger’s double action pull is say, 7-15lbs; many of the new-gen pistol’s trigger pull ranges from 5-11lbs, especially the DAO’s, and they too have a long pull. The old single-action pistols did have light, short-pull triggers, but that is generally relegated to the 1911-style pistols.


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