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9mm Revolver : I Know What You’re Thinking, Punk

Dirty Harry probably isn’t the movie you remember. The amount of racial slurs, senseless shootings, and general lack of fornications to give made for a peak '70s action movie, not so much for modern day. The mixture of crime, drugs, hippies, and radicals made the city of San Francisco the perfect backdrop. The city has come a long way since those days, though some would say the San Francisco of today would benefit from Inspector Harry Callahan roaming the city. But what would he have done with a 9mm revolver?

Harry was a different character than the straight-arrow heroes of the previous generation. He was a loner with no life outside his job of busting hoods. Harry followed the laws but hated the flawed bureaucratic system. This idea rings as true today as it did back then.

While Dirty Harry was more political than remembered, it was his mythic costar that seared the memory of moviegoers. There are few couples in history as iconic as Dirty Harry and his Smith & Wesson Model 29. The most powerful handgun in the world could take your head clean off. Watching Harry dispatch punks with the monster recoiling revolver never got old. The lowlife scum didn’t deserve a reload. For gun guys, this revolver was as much a part of the movie as Clint Eastwood. This definitely should’ve been a credited role for the wheel gun.

It has been 50 years since the first Dirty Harry movie was released. While technology has come a long way, the revolver has been relatively unchanged. Honestly, how do you advance the wheel? In the days of eight-round pistol magazines, a six-shooter wasn’t a big disadvantage. Now that higher-capacity guns rule the streets, it’s hard to bring the revolver back to the mainstream. 

Why a Revolver?

The notion that a revolver is immune from malfunctions has kept it a comforting choice for shooters. The fact that this idea is false has nothing to do with people’s feelings. Don’t cloud the issue with logic and reason. There are shooters who prefer revolvers and we’re sure these people still have Dirty Harry on VHS. 

S&W Performance Center Model 929 9mm revolver
We’ve come a long way from bell bottoms and tweed jackets. Featuring titanium cylinders, PVD coatings, and fiber-optic sights, these aren’t grandpa’s six-shooters. Now sit on it!

First, the beginner who can’t be bothered to learn all the buttons and levers of a semi-auto, the aficionado who appreciates the Swiss watch-like mechanism, and the shooter who sees the semi-auto as an inferior bottom feeder. This bitterness has created a faction of the competition shooting community that has held fast to the circular operating system. While the fundamentals are similar to a semi-auto, activating the trigger of a double-action revolver requires more focus. We won’t mention the debacle of reloading a revolver. 

While it can be hard to see, there are advantages to the revolver. The revolver doesn’t depend on the energy of the ammo to cycle the action, and fully jacketed bullets don’t have to feed out of a magazine. This makes room for a wide variety of ammunition available to the platform. The fact of the matter is shooting a long double-action trigger will force you to focus on trigger control, sight alignment, and visual patience. These are skills that traverse all platforms of shooting. 

Ruger Super GP100 9mm revolver
The short cylinders on both guns give you a hint there’s something funky going on. The Ruger shares its frame with the .357 magnum version, hence the huge gap between the cylinder and frame.

This brings us to the latest test from RECOIL. Let’s find out what modern manufacturing can do to polish the 1800s invention. We’ve wrangled up two competition wheel guns chambered in 9mm. Why a 9mm Revolver? The smaller case volume of the 9mm allows for a more consistent charge when shooting lighter loads. Keeping with minimal recoil, but easier to achieve consistent accuracy than conventional straight-walled cases. The issue with using a rimless cartridge in a revolver isn’t just in loading the cylinder, but more importantly when extracting the spent cases. This is where moon clips come in. The clips are used to hold the rounds together, so extraction doesn’t rely on getting your fingernail under the case head but extracting all of the spent cases at once. As a by-product, it makes loading and unloading more efficient. 

S&W

For those unlettered in the ways of the wheel gun, Smith & Wesson has been the dominating force for the past few millennia. The S&W Performance Center lavishes its guns with performance-enhancing modifications and more attention to detail than the general assembly line stuff. The first gun we have for the test is the S&W Performance Center 929. This gun features input from the most famous revolver shooter of this generation. Jerry Miculek has multiple world records with his wheel gun skills. His signature on the side of the gun is like wearing Nike Air Jordan’s to play basketball. 

S&W Performance Center Model 929 9mm revolver
While not standard, the aftermarket extended cylinder release on the S&W was added for easier reloads.

The large N frame was designed to house six rounds of 44 magnum, but in this case allows room for eight rounds of 9mm. Hello … six-shooters are so 1800s. This made-for-competition version features a 6.5-inch barrel with a removable single-port compensator. The PC-tuned double-action trigger breaks at around 9 pounds, and the single-action trips the scale at around 4 pounds. The titanium cylinder reduces the rotating mass of conventional steel versions. This is essentially the same as cutting weight from the slide of a semi-auto pistol. It’s about whittling weight from the moving parts. The 44.3-ounce weight helps tame the massive mouse fart of the 9mm round. To put things in perspective, a Glock 17 is half the weight at 22 ounces. The 929 isn’t a small gun, but in 9mm this isn’t the cannon fire depicted in Dirty Harry. Even a superhero like Eastwood seemed to have trouble managing that 44 magnum recoil. 

Ruger

Ruger has made a name for itself over the years by making quality firearms focused on the average shooter. Ruger has decided to give its fans more with the development of the Ruger custom shop, which is responsible for developing high-end performance versions of their most popular models. Essentially, it performs custom gunsmithing straight from the factory. 

Ruger Super GP100 9mm revolver
Out of sight! Better sights on the Ruger make up for the slightly shorter sight radius.

The custom shop has put together a bit of a Frankenstein monster with the Super GP100. The frame is from the Super Redhawk, and the rest is from the GP100 series guns. As with the S&W, the frame was intended for the 44 magnum but makes for plenty of room to fit a couple extra 9mm rounds. The single-action trigger pull was measured at 4 pounds, and the double-action registered at around 10 pounds. The barrel is measured at 6 inches but features an extra-long forcing cone to compensate for the 9mm’s short cylinder length. This makes for a shorter overall length. The Super GP 9mm Revolver tips the scales at 45.6 ounces, making the Ruger a shorter and heavier gun than the 929. The cylinder is PVD coated and features lightening cuts similar to Ruger’s LCR revolver line. 

Ruger Super GP100 9mm revolver
The thicker frame of the Ruger makes it virtually indestructible. The extra material might be overkill for the 9mm.

It has Hogue wood grips that fit the hand better than the rubber alternative. The front sight features a fiber-optic rod, making it easier to pick up quickly. The cylinder is chamfered, allowing for easier reloads. Even the case the Super GP100 comes in lets you know there’s something special inside. A bonus is the de-mooning tool that makes unloading the moon clips manageable. The Ruger feels more like a custom gun.

Go Ahead, Make My Day

What better way to test competition guns than at a shooting competition? Both guns were taken to a local USPSA competition to see how they fared in their natural habitat. Running and gunning through a practical shooting course of fire is a thing of beauty when it’s done right. Picture spent cases flying through the air, steel targets ringing out, falling plates littering the range, and empty magazines thrown by the wayside. The balance of speed, accuracy, and power is mesmerizing. 

Shooting a revolver is none of that. The revolver game is more about control and consistency. It requires the same principles as “regular” pistols just in different doses. When shooting a revolver in competition, accuracy is crucial; any misplaced shots will require a time-consuming reload. You only have eight rounds, so make them count.

S&W Performance Center Model 929 9mm revolver
The slimmer design of the S&W makes for a longer gun, while maintaining a lighter weight

While the guns are evenly matched on the spec sheet, the feel of the gun can’t be calculated with numbers. The Ruger offers better sights, a better grip, more in and out of the box. The S&W makes up ground in its performance and how the gun shoots. It’s flatter shooting and has a bit of a better trigger out of the box, but the stock trigger is usually the first thing to go in a race gun. Either gun will do the job when you want to go fast with a revolver.

More fundamental testing is required if you want tangible numbers. The Bill Drill is the go-to test for measuring the gun’s ability to return to target after follow-up shots. Six rounds from a holster at 7 yards isn’t exactly long-range shooting, but neither is shooting a 9mm revolver. It was interesting to see how consistent the splits were on target, as the revolvers are very similar guns. Ford versus Chevy, Pepsi versus Coke, and now S&W versus Ruger. The S&W clocked the faster time at 2.28 seconds with a 1.04 first shot and 0.25 splits. In the grand scheme of things, the Ruger isn’t far behind and came in at 2.36 just 0.08 slower with similar splits. This can be attributed to the lighter weight and better trigger of the S&W. 

9mm revolver at the range
Shooting a revolver at speed requires different focus than semi-auto platforms.

Next, a single target at 15 yards would measure accuracy. Both guns were shot from a table and the five-shot groups were recorded. Most commercial 9mm ammunition is made for semi-autos, which makes it challenging to take advantage of a revolver’s diversity. Four different types of ammo were used to test accuracy — 115-grain offerings from Sellier & Bellot (round nose) and Remington (hollow-points), 124-grain Sig Sauer, and 147-grain hand-loads. Oddly, the best groups were had with the lighter 115-grain bullets. The S&W netted a 0.833 inch with the Remington hollow-points, while the Ruger was measured at 0.885 inch with the S&B. We did notice that the S&W was partial to certain ammunition but didn’t like others, whereas the Ruger was more consistent across the board. 

While the performance from both guns was great, the reliability wasn't 100 percent. We had more than a few light strikes on primers. This isn’t uncommon with competition revolvers, as the lighter triggers exert less force on the primer. The consensus from the serious revolver crowd is to use Federal primers, as they're made from softer material and make for easier ignition. Not what we expected out of the box, but it’s the nature of the beast. 

End Credits

Like Harry, these guns really have no life outside their jobs as race guns. They require tinkering and specific recipes to work reliably. This comes with the “race gun” territory. The misconception that revolvers are more reliable than semi-autos is certainly not the case when it comes to competition setups. While this isn’t a great selling point for these race guns, it’s racked up to the idea of, “If you want to play, you have to pay.”

These wouldn’t be a good choice for a first gun, as they require time and effort to achieve reliability. These are geared toward the next-level shooter who is looking for a new challenge. The Smith & Wesson performs marginally better, but the Ruger looks better and has more to offer out of the box than the 929. If you plan on changing all of the parts anyway, the decision becomes much harder. One thing is for certain: We now appreciate our high-cap magazine where you don’t have to remember if you shot seven rounds or eight. 

[Photography by Kenda Lenseigne and Red Donkey Studio.]


Ruger Super GP100

Caliber: 9mm
Capacity: 8 rounds
Weight: 45.6 ounces
OAL: 11 inches
Barrel length: 6 inches
MSRP: $1,549
URL: ruger.com


Smith & Wesson Performance Center Model 929 

Caliber: 9mm
Capacity 8 rounds
Weight: 44.3 ounces
OAL: 12.3 inches
Barrel length 6.5 inches
MSRP: $1,229
URL: smith-wesson.com


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3 responses to “9mm Revolver : I Know What You’re Thinking, Punk”

  1. no_one_important says:

    How about a face-off of two 9mm revolvers those of more modest means would probably purchase…Taurus 905 9mm vs. Ruger LCRx 9mm?

  2. Chuck says:

    The thing I like best about a revolver is in dry firing. I can unload and reload cartridges in the chambers of a revolver without dinging up the cases as much as I do with a semi. If you are practicing with your go-to gun this becomes of significance around the tenth or twentieth time you load your magazine back up.

    You don’t need to pry your 9 mm cases out if you forgot to pre-load them in a moon clip. A short length of dowel will work just fine. In extreme circumstances your Cross pen or a plain old #2 pencil will do.

    You can use a really el cheapo 9 mm mag as a bullet holder/reloader for 9 mm revolvers. It gives you a nice convenient holder for extra rounds. Get a 17 or larger mag and you can really carry a load of bullets which reload fairly quickly from the mag.

    You don’t need moon clips if the manufacturer has machined the cylinder chambers to space on the chamber mouth other than on the moon clip. If the cylinder is machined correctly you can use the 9 mm cartridges with or without moon clips. Thus if you have just bent your last moon clip you can still run the gun using your trusty dowel. Not as fast as moon clips by far, but still keeps you in the game, albeit a bit slower but not that much if you are using a magazine to hold your extra rounds.

    How do I know all of this? I have owned a 9mm S&W revolver since the early 1980s.
    Also own a .45 acp revolver and a 10 mm which has the extra advantage of being able to ignite .40 S&W with moon clips. Now that is a trick your slam bang pistol can’t handle.

    The other nice feature of a revolver is that it isn’t fussy about how much powder you put in the case. It can be a wimpy 115 gr wadcutter at 850 fps or a wrist twisting 150 gr. LBTFN at 1450 fps. The revolver doesn’t care as long as you don’t blow up the gun. Try that with your slam-bang pistol

  3. Jake says:

    Dirty Harry Loaded his .44 mag with .44 specials.
    BTW that was a typical action movie made bye the liberal progressives of the day. Funny how times change,

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  • How about a face-off of two 9mm revolvers those of more modest means would probably purchase...Taurus 905 9mm vs. Ruger LCRx 9mm?

  • The thing I like best about a revolver is in dry firing. I can unload and reload cartridges in the chambers of a revolver without dinging up the cases as much as I do with a semi. If you are practicing with your go-to gun this becomes of significance around the tenth or twentieth time you load your magazine back up.

    You don't need to pry your 9 mm cases out if you forgot to pre-load them in a moon clip. A short length of dowel will work just fine. In extreme circumstances your Cross pen or a plain old #2 pencil will do.

    You can use a really el cheapo 9 mm mag as a bullet holder/reloader for 9 mm revolvers. It gives you a nice convenient holder for extra rounds. Get a 17 or larger mag and you can really carry a load of bullets which reload fairly quickly from the mag.

    You don't need moon clips if the manufacturer has machined the cylinder chambers to space on the chamber mouth other than on the moon clip. If the cylinder is machined correctly you can use the 9 mm cartridges with or without moon clips. Thus if you have just bent your last moon clip you can still run the gun using your trusty dowel. Not as fast as moon clips by far, but still keeps you in the game, albeit a bit slower but not that much if you are using a magazine to hold your extra rounds.

    How do I know all of this? I have owned a 9mm S&W revolver since the early 1980s.
    Also own a .45 acp revolver and a 10 mm which has the extra advantage of being able to ignite .40 S&W with moon clips. Now that is a trick your slam bang pistol can't handle.

    The other nice feature of a revolver is that it isn't fussy about how much powder you put in the case. It can be a wimpy 115 gr wadcutter at 850 fps or a wrist twisting 150 gr. LBTFN at 1450 fps. The revolver doesn't care as long as you don't blow up the gun. Try that with your slam-bang pistol

  • Dirty Harry Loaded his .44 mag with .44 specials.
    BTW that was a typical action movie made bye the liberal progressives of the day. Funny how times change,

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