The Perennial Question: Revolver or Autoloader? (and Who Won the Book?)

The Perennial Question: Revolver or Autoloader? (and Who Won the Book?)
One advantage of the autoloading pistol is capacity - the loaded Glock on left carries the same number of rounds as all these revolvers put together.

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One advantage of the autoloading pistol is capacity – the loaded Glock on left carries the same number of rounds as all these revolvers put together.

The Perennial Question: Revolver or Autoloader?
Both have their vocal adherents, and both have advantages and disadvantages.

The most commonly cited attribute of the revolver is its inherent reliability. While any mechanical device can malfunction, revolvers have historically had a much longer interval between malfunctions than the autoloader. The revolver also has a simpler manual of arms; there are fewer controls and the gun is more easily reloaded and checked than is the autoloader. The revolver handles ultra-powerful rounds that an autoloader simply can’t, making it far more suitable for hunting and long range competition.

The autoloader typically holds more ammunition than does the revolver, and it’s generally easier to shoot than a double-action revolver.

Given equal practice most people can reload the autoloader faster than any other handgun, and the autoloader is easier to shoot quickly due to the typically shorter trigger travel. Its ammunition supply is carried in flat, easily-exchanged magazines and the gun itself is flatter – making it, in some opinions, easier to conceal.

How to decide between the two? Start with the expected use. There are some areas where the revolver is going to be the choice: handgun hunting and long-range competitions are areas where autoloaders struggle to keep up. For self defense, a majority of people prefer an autoloader, but there is a strong contingent of people who make the revolver their choice in protection. In competitive shooting matches some are revolver neutral, where others clearly favor the auto.

A revolver’s grips can be easily exchanged for smaller or larger sizes to better fit the shooter’s hand.

The dedication of the shooter is a big determinant as well. The double action revolver is harder to shoot well than the autoloader and demands a greater practice commitment on the part of the shooter. The autoloader, in contrast, is often easier to shoot but has a more difficult manual of arms; it requires more knowledge and care in handling and doing administrative tasks like loading, unloading, and cleaning.

Sometimes physical needs come into play. The autoloaders will generally have a fatter grip than the revolver, making it harder to handle by shooters with shorter fingers or smaller hands. The revolver can be more easily modified for smaller or larger hand sizes simply by changing the grips. Some autoloaders have interchangeable grip parts, but overall still don’t have the adjustability of the revolver.

The autoloader’s slide can be harder to manipulate for those with muscular issues, while the revolver’s cylinder is easy to open and close. Similarly, the revolver’s heavy double action trigger requires more finger strength than does the typical autoloader. For someone whose hands are a little on the weak side, the revolver presents a greater challenge than the auto.

One deciding factor is that the auto’s slide manipulation is more a matter of technique than strength, but there is no corresponding solution for the person who can’t pull the revolver’s long and heavy trigger. (In the chapter on shooting techniques, we’ll go over the procedure that allows almost anyone to operate almost any autoloader slide, regardless of upper body strength.) In most such cases the autoloader is the better choice.

Of course, for the person who is still having trouble deciding, there is an alternative: buy both!

When you order Grant's books, Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to Handguns and Gun Digest Book of the Revolver, remember to use promo code INSIDEGDB to get free standard U.S. shipping on your order.

Thanks for reading the blog, and remember to check in often for more chances to win great Gun Digest books.


  1. Personally, I think using a revolver in single action is the easier of the two. I can always cock the hammer easier than I can rack a slide, takes much less muscle and dexterity. If the concern is number of rounds, then buy an 8 round S&W revolver and shoot 38’s or 357 rounds if you are capable. I think 8 rounds should be enough for most situations we encounter, unless we are attending rebel uprisings or drug deals on a regular basis . . . .


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